An annual “Community Builders” award presentation in Abbotsford, B.C., included a new category of recognition at its Nov. 3 ceremony: Flood Heroes, to honor those who took significant action to provide volunteer relief to those affected by the catastrophic flooding in the Fraser Valley in November 2021. Gateway Community Christian Reformed Church was honored as one of four recipients of the Flood Hero Award.
Archway Community Services, which hosted the awards, noted that Gateway “has played an instrumental role in flood-relief efforts. They provided a food pantry, coordinated donations, and connected families to lodging.
“More than 75 volunteers poured countless hours into helping the community recover and rebuild. They started the Abbotsford Disaster Response Coalition, which has raised more than $1.3 million to help meet gaps for flooding victims, and they continue to operate a Crisis Response Centre,” reads Archway’s communication about the event.
Recipients were also presented a certificate from the local representatives of the BC Provincial legislature.
The award presentation was close to the one-year anniversary of the flooding. Gateway members have seen profound changes in their relationship to the community. Tracy Tuin, crisis response coordinator from Gateway, said, “Through months of building relationships with many people, sharing their journey of rebuilding and recovery, I’ve seen many get stronger and literally stand taller.” She said witnessing these “noticeable changes in people from first meeting them when they were so emotionally low, physically exhausted, and haggard looking” left a deep impression.
Many of the volunteers from Gateway stressed that receiving accolades for their work is not the point, but that receiving recognition from a secular institution does reflect the impact that a church can have on its community.
Sonlight Community CRC in Lynden, Wash., which was also affected by the November 2021 floods, echoed a similar sentiment. Sonlight opened its building and became a shelter for those in need, with many families staying in the church in the days immediately following the flood. Lynda Burke, Sonlight’s children’s ministry director, who helped run the front desk of the shelter operation, shared how she still feels the impact.
“Seeing our church mobilize around this crisis still lingers. We saw the collective potential of all our efforts coming together to provide practical care for those in need. Tasting that gives you a hunger for more opportunities to serve those in need and to be a place of safety and comfort.”
Burke said in reflecting on the past year, she is overwhelmed by the “how much joy came from being a very small part in God’s great work of compassion and mercy. It was utterly exhausting, but at the same time, too beautiful to describe the gifts of heaven pouring down helping us meet people at their crisis point with Jesus’ love.”
Becky Van Hofwegen, the office administrator at Sonlight, said while in the short term, the church was affected with the people living in the building, the greater impact is the long-term relationships that have been established with both individuals and the community as a whole. “It's amazing to see what opening your doors to those in need can do for you as a community,” Van Hofwegen said.