A year after a wildfire that devastated parts of the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray, a team of 16 youth, young adults, and youth leaders from five Christian Reformed churches in northern Alberta arrived to serve Evergreen, the only CRC in Fort McMurray, as well as the community.
Ron deVries, the CRC’s youth ministry catalyzer and Canadian SERVE director for Youth Unlimited, called it an “energizing event.” It was also an exploratory trip prior to a large project planned for the summer of 2018.
“Although Fort McMurray is called ‘Fort McMurray Strong,’” explained Anna Marie Mywaart, a longtime member of Evergreen, “people are still in various stages of recovery, both emotionally and physically. Homes are being rebuilt, but insurance struggles are still occurring. The fire affected the very basic human needs of home and security, whether your home was burned or not, and there will be lingering effects of this for some time yet. When over 80,000 people are evacuated from their homes and not allowed to return for a month or more, the trauma effects are real.”
“We arrived at Evergreen on Friday evening,” said Woody Nook CRC’s youth director Phil Drost. “[We] were welcomed with open arms by some members of the community. Their hospitality was generous. That evening, we heard a few stories about the frightening evacuation that took place. We also learned that we would be running a free car wash and barbeque on Saturday, just simply to bless the community.”
Saturday turned out to be a rainy day with a temperature of 5C (40F), “but that didn’t seem to lower spirits,” said Drost. “We were glad to see many people from the community stopping in, and people were pleasantly surprised that it was all free.”
Carnations for Mother’s Day, helium balloons for the children, and dog treats were handed out. Flowers were planted. Some drywalling was done in Evergreen’s basement.
Sunday morning worship was a joyous affair led by the team, and the people of Evergreen expressed gratitude for being blessed in worship by these young people.
“Our church has been without a full-time pastor for almost two years, so the energy and encouragement provided by the SERVE group was most welcome and gave Evergreen a boost,” Mywaart said. “We appreciated all the work done and all the youthful enthusiasm.”
“I thought it was a good trip to get to know other people and work for the Lord”, said 13-year-old Janna Schalk of First CRC in Red Deer. Taylor Salomons, 15, of Woody Nook CRC said, “I thought the experience was very cool. We got to experience that one-year anniversary with them and have them share their stories with us. One of the ladies there said that it costs about $40 to wash your car in Fort Mac. Some of the people had difficulty comprehending why we would want to do it for free. The weather could have been a bit better, but all in all, for my first ever SERVE trip, it was pretty awesome.”
“It was an honor,” said Ron de Vries, “to spend time working alongside this congregation in reaching out to a community that was still feeling quite anxious from the experience of a year ago. This group who came from a few northern Alberta CRCs helped to reflect a sense of optimism and hope.”