Update on High River Flooding

Disaster Relief FUnd
Disaster Relief FUnd

June 28, 2013 – “It’s like a nightmare we can’t wake up from,” said Pastor Jason Johnson of High River Baptist Church in High River, AB on Wednesday about the flood damage that has hit southern Alberta.

A large portion of eastern High River is covered by a lake filled with contaminated water that will remain washing through local homes until officials find an environmentally safe place to put it, a solution that may take weeks to find.  Although damage to High River’s homes has yet to be assessed, early estimates are that up to 1,000 homes – about 1 in 6 – will need to be bulldozed.  Thousands of others in this town of 13,000 will require significant renovations.

Most of High River Baptist Church’s 300-member congregation have had their homes flooded and have been forced to evacuate.  Most have scattered to the homes of friends and family in other towns. Townspeople with nowhere to go are in shelters.   Keeping in touch with all members of the congregation and making sure they receive pastoral care is a huge challenge because of the scattered evacuation.

The church building itself has been flooded so badly that its basement is full of water to the ceiling and the sanctuary has been filled with 5 feet of muddy water.

“At this point we don’t know whether we will have to tear out what has been damaged or raze the church to the ground,” said Jason, whose own home has been flooded.  “For all of us, there is a lot of anxiety in not knowing.  Even if we could verify that our homes are a write-off, we could start making plans and start the grieving process but right now everything is just unknown.”

“The real grief is yet to come,” said Jason.  “”People sincerely want to be the hands and feet of Christ but many need to find their wholeness in Christ before they start helping their neighbours.”

On top of making sure his own congregation is cared for,  Jason is working with the local ministerial group to assist local residents as the re-enter their homes and take stock of the damage and their changed lives.  He admits to being exhausted but copes by turning to God and trying to maintain a routine.  He knows that High River Baptist will face huge challenges ahead to maintain open communication with the congregation about providing aid, finding a place to meet and navigating the decisions to be made about the church building while the majority of the congregation is preoccupied with dealing with their losses, finding long-term accommodation and rearranging their upended lives.

“There are 300 people in the congregation to keep tabs on,” he explained.  “Seniors are our biggest concern.  This will take weeks and months and years of coming together.  But I’m encouraged.  Last Sunday we even managed to have a service. People showed up in shorts and T shirts, but they came.”

At the top of the list of Jason’s request for help is prayer. “Prayer is the only thing we’re holding onto.  We have an amazing opportunity to walk with God collectively.  Pray that we can be effective in helping others and in remembering that our treasures are in heaven. Pray that we could be a gift of God’s grace in the water and discover how faithful God is.”

Jason says that no offer of help or encouragement will be refused.  The CBWC’s Alberta Regional office is collecting names of people who would like to volunteer to help. Contact abarea@cbwc.ca.

“The support from neighbouring churches and from the CBWC is a huge. It is a perpetual reminder of the bigger body of Christ.  It has been a huge encouragement to us and it helps us remember that our chaos is God’s perfect order,” said Jason.  “We are looking for the spiritual renewal and blessings that can come from this.”

The CBWC’s Disaster Relief Fund is collecting money to help High River Baptist and CBWC churches that are offering relief  to flood victims in their local communities.  Go to www.cbwc.ca/donate to offer your support (once our office opens again after being shut a week because of the floods) or send a donation to the CBWC’s head office in Calgary.

The CBWC is also grateful to Canadian Baptist Ministries, our international mission partner, which has already donated $5,000 for flood relief is receiving online donations so they can forward them to the CBWC’s Disaster Relief Fund.