Paul Droogers, pastor of High River (Alberta) Christian Reformed Church, escaped “just in time” as unprecedented flooding continues to sweep across southern Alberta.
With his wife, Jill, and three young children ages 7, 5, and 4, along with a couple of hastily packed bags of possessions, Droogers fled as part of an evacuation of the whole town.
“As I backed the car out of the garage,” Droogers said, “I saw a massive wall of water coming down the street,” reminding him of images he’d seen of the Southeast Asian tsunami. “I guess this is it,” he said.
Those who couldn’t make it out of town in time, including many seniors, needed to be plucked from rooftops by helicopter or rescued from flooded homes by boats, dump trucks, and even combines.
Further north and west, Calgary’s downtown and many of its neighborhoods, including the zoo, became inundated as the Bow and Elbow Rivers rose higher and higher. “Like a modern-day ark,” reported the Calgary Sun, “the Calgary Zoo is riding out the great flood.”
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced following evacuation orders. Entire houses and yards have fallen into swollen, raging rivers. Roads and bridges were damaged or washed away, destroying both the west and eastbound lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway.
As of Sunday, June 23, a state of emergency still existed in many places.
The town of High River remains completely evacuated. “No one is allowed back into town,” said church member, Bonnie Bennik. “In fact, you were only able to get hold of me,” she said, “because this is my cell phone number. All landlines are down.” Because they live out of town, the Benniks’ home is not flooded.
Droogers and many in his congregation who have homes in High River are staying with friends and relatives. Like all residents, they are waiting to find out when they can return home to see what has happened. A firefighter friend on patrol in town informed Droogers that High River CRC has about 11 feet of water in the basement. Droogers fears the worst for the parsonage that sits just across the gravel driveway from the church.
The local Alliance Church, as well as Granum CRC, invited the High River congregation to join them for Sunday worship. Asked to say a few words, Droogers chose to read and reflect on Isaiah 43: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. “Actually,” Droogers said “the river went through us, but God’s presence is here and it’s God’s presence that is helping and encouraging us.”
In Calgary, several CRCs canceled worship services. “We cancelled our service because of the flood,” said New Hope’s pastor John Van Sloten. “Neighborhoods five blocks south and east of our church are now evacuated, plus the city has asked its citizens to avoid all unnecessary travel this weekend.”
Hillside Community Church meets in a school gym in northwest Calgary that remained high and dry. However, the church has had at least two families evacuated because of the floods, and at least one of them is anticipating a devastating loss. Hillside is reaching out to the many citizens who have suffered great damage and loss and has registered as a group to be contacted by Samaritan's Purse when disaster relief efforts begin.
Folks in the Inglewood neighborhood of Calgary where The Lantern CRC is situated were told to evacuate. Ed Top and Michelle Gritter are The Lantern’s co-pastors. Topp refused to leave, preferring to stay behind and help neighbors. Neither the church nor the home of its co-pastors was damaged, but many homes in the area were. Although the water has started to slowly recede, Gritter believes “most people are still in shock.” She finds that the greatest need now is for people to talk.
“The potential (of what could happen) was traumatic,” she said, “like being told your house might fall in the river.” Instead of the usual Sunday worship service, The Lantern had a short service of prayer and story sharing and then a community barbeque.
Maranatha CRC is situated 40 meters away from the banks of the Bow River. Over the past few days, the river has eroded its once gentle slope of river bank to a 20-meter high cliff. “Portions of our parking lot have fallen into the river, with more expected to follow,” reported pastor Dale Melenberg. Sunday worship was canceled with plans to meet elsewhere until the church receives news concerning the stability of its property.
Melenberg offers the following prayer request: “Please hold the whole city and province in your prayers as we all discover ways of living into our new realities. The sun broke through this morning, reminding us that God's mercies are new each day!”