Sumas (Wash.) Christian Reformed Church faced major clean-up and restoration work in December once flood waters from record rains in mid-November receded. That didn’t stop congregation members from also focusing resources outward to support the broader community.
The town of Sumas was hit hard by the overflow of the Nooksack river, part of widespread cross-border flooding that affected all of the Sumas Prairie area in British Columbia and Washington’s Whatcom County.
Sumas CRC, close to the center of town, ended up with 4 to 5 feet of water in its building and in the adjacent parsonage. The congregation is currently without a pastor. A church family that had been renting the parsonage had to evacuate their home. Barry Swinburnson, a deacon at Sumas CRC, said once the flood water receded in early December, volunteers were able to start removing drywall, insulation, carpet, and other damaged items. They also removed church pews to have them assessed for damage. In a Dec. 21 interview Swinburnson said there had been tremendous support from the community toward the restoration, saying the church received a donation of drywall for the repairs.
While the efforts of Sumas CRC were first directed inwardly to assist their own members, of which about half were directly affected by the flood, they quickly morphed to a broader community effort. “The need was so great,” Swinburnson said. “It became clear after the first few days that our efforts were required in assisting the broader community. Everyone needed help.”
Floods swamped many farms in this fertile valley. Volunteers from the church formed work crews to clean out houses and barns. Others provided food and water. Working with other churches and charities such as Whatcom Strong, Sumas CRC members and supporters from Classis North Cascades (the regional group of Christian Reformed congregations) contributed significantly to the recovery.
Classis North Cascades convened an emergency disaster response meeting at Second CRC in Lynden, Wash., Dec. 2. J. Scott Roberts, pastor of Hope in Christ CRC in Bellingham, Wash., and the classis stated clerk, said members of World Renew’s Disaster Relief Services participated. Attendees heard reports from member churches on their current and future needs, discussed the best way to coordinate resources among the churches and charities, and considered what long-term support could look like.
Roberts said there was consensus that while there are many immediate needs, just as many long-term needs likely would become visible once rebuilding efforts were able to begin in earnest. “This will not be a month-long effort, not even a year-long effort, but we are looking at multi-year effort at minimum,” Roberts said.
“It has been amazing to see the church be the church,” he added. “As soon as the waters began to rise, the church stepped up just as quickly. While it took a week or so for many of the aid agencies and other organizations to arrive on the scene, for many the first wave of support came from the local church.”