For the second time in a year, East Christian Reformed Church in Strathroy, Ontario, was a refuge in a snow storm for stranded travelers. The same blizzard stranded two CRC employees.
On December 13, a warm and almost festive atmosphere prevailed at the church during the 48 hours it housed over 50 motorists stranded by a blizzard that closed highway 402, one of the major Ontario highways leading to the USA-Canada border.
The church also sheltered motorists in similar circumstances in January 2010. (See http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2611.)
The Salvation Army, church members, and local businesses provided food, pillows, and blankets. Classrooms were set up as sleeping spaces.
Wireless internet allowed people to contact worried family members. Children were kept busy with basketball and a movie shown on the big screen.
As the storm intensified, so did media attention. Church administrator Wilma Zondag said, “I had the cordless in my hand all day Tuesday but still missed 42 calls.” It was a busy day of phone calls and camera interviews for [both] the staff and the motorists.
Stories abounded of motorists being housed and fed by farmers that live along the highway and of others rescued from cars to stay warm in the cabs of transport trucks.
One news clip showed a brief interview with John Orkar, an employee of Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, visiting North America from Jos, Nigeria, after he was rescued from his vehicle.
Ben Vandezande, director of Christian Reformed Home Missions, was stranded too. He said when it became clear that he would not be able to continue, he found some protection from the wind by stopping his car beside a transport truck.
For the next 20 hours he was either in his car or checking on occupants of cars stopped around him. He was able to offer reassurance and a warmer waiting place to a recent immigrant from Sri Lanka, who was stopped several cars ahead.
Throughout the 20-hour wait, noted Vandezande, he felt secure. “I felt an amazing sense of calm . . . a profound sense of the personal presence of God.”
Eventually he was taken by snowmobile to shelter. Vandezande said, “I met Jerry Kassies, who I’d worked with in diaconal work 10 or 15 years ago. He came up, and . . . we talked up a storm. No pun intended.” Kassies is a member of Good News CRC in London, Ontario.
Both men ended up staying with Paul and Liz Koetsier, members of the Wyoming (Ontario) CRC.