On Monday, Nov. 15, water in the Sumas prairie area of Abbotsford, B.C., began to rise quickly as rivers swollen by record-setting rains spilled over their banks and burst through dykes. Sumas Prairie is a historic lakebed that was dried to create farmland, and so the water naturally flowed to the low ground. Most of the farms in the area were flooded and evacuation orders were issued for the entire area. Major highways in the area were closed as they too became submerged. Sumas prairie is bordered by Abbotsford to the west, Chilliwack, B.C., to the east, and Whatcom County in Washington State to the south.
Many of the local Christian Reformed Churches on both sides of the border had congregation members who were directly affected by the flooding.
Marcel deRegt, one of three pastors who serve Gateway Community CRC in Abbotsford, lives in Chilliwack. Since the road connecting the two cities closed Nov. 15 he hasn’t been able to get to the church. Many of the church members who had to be evacuated from their homes also were displaced to Chilliwack. On Sunday, Nov. 21, deRegt was able to partner with Cornerstone CRC in Chilliwack to host a gathering of all the displaced families who were stranded there. “The stories were unreal of people losing their home, all their kids’ toys and collections, furniture and more,” he said. “They were waiting to go see their home, or what is left, the farms and their livestock. The emotions were real and raw. Words can't express the pain and grief our families are experiencing.”
At Gateway in Abbotsford, where about a third of the member families are directly affected by the flooding, the Nov. 21 service was one of hope and help. The morning worship service was a respite from a week of disaster response and the turmoil that brings. Justin Caruthers, Gateway’s lead pastor, said church members sprung to action quickly—providing meals and lodging for those displaced and assisting with evacuation of farm animals as needed.
In Lynden, Wash., Sonlight Church was the staging ground for much of the early disaster responses. Samaritan’s Purse set up a command center at the church, and throughout the week more than 50 people were sheltered in the church building. Don Kok, an elder at Sonlight, was amazed at how quickly the church body was able to act. They had agreed to be a shelter for evacuees on Nov. 15, and by the next morning, buses of evacuees had shown up.
Many churches in the area were part of the first wave of responders, before government assistance could be mobilized. On Tuesday, Nov. 16, a church group was part of a team of 300 people that assisted in sandbagging and protecting a pump station that is critical in keeping floodwaters from gathering in the historic lakebed. Other churches collected food and supplies for the displaced. On its Facebook page, Cornerstone CRC in Chilliwack posted looking for volunteers to unload supply boats sent by Mission Hills Community Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in Mission, B.C. They later updated: “Thank you to all those who came out to help unload boats filled with donations from Mission and help distribute them to The Salvation Army and the donation collection centre at Farmhouse Brewing!”
Caruthers said, “More than anything, we have been absolutely amazed by how quickly this congregation and the surrounding community of volunteers, churches, and agencies have sprung into action. It has been overwhelmingly beautiful.”
World Renew’s Disaster Response Services, a branch of its mission that sends volunteer work crews to places that have been devastated by floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters, expects to be involved at later stages. “There are other government and NGO organizations that are designed to take the lead in these early stages,” Bob Laarman, director of DRS, said. “We are, and will continue to be, in contact with churches and other NGOs to discern appropriate responses in the longer term. Recovery is always a longer process than anyone anticipates.”
Gary Veeneman, a coach for CRC deacons with Diaconal Ministries Canada (and the author’s father), wrote a Nov. 22 update for that ministry's website, telling how people could share their support for those impacted by the flood losses.