Camp Hope’s director is praising God after an ice storm devastated the Adventist-owned retreat in Canada last month, saying he has witnessed unprecedented love and unity even as repair costs have soared to more than $300,000.
Freezing rain and snowfall beset Camp Hope in the province of British Columbia over two days in early January, leaving behind a wreckage of damaged trees and toppled power lines that resembled a war zone.
Despite the horrendous mess, no one was injured, and the buildings suffered minimal damage.
“We praise God for the storm,” camp director Bill Gerber said. “It has taken a while to be able to say that, but there are some silver linings that I can now see.”
Among them are the scores of volunteers, including a group of 50 on Sunday, who have carried out the backbreaking task of sawing down trees and gathering up thousands of broken branches — cleanup work that is not covered by the camp’s insurance.
“Last Sunday as our volunteers and staff were all working together, shouldering this task, I felt this real sense of unity, support, and love for each other, our mission, and our camp,” Gerber said.
Among the volunteers on Sunday were Bill and Lisa McRorie, who made the four and a half hour roundtrip drive from their home in the municipality of West Kelowna with their three children, Jenaya, 12, Wilson, 10, and Autumn, 6.
“We wanted our children to help fix our favorite family summer spot,” Lisa McRorie said Wednesday. “We’d face real drama and fireworks if we ever decided to skip a year. It is a very special time to be reunited with friends, family and Christ. “
Another volunteer, Norman Duncan, a certified tree faller from Kelowna, a city of 117,000 people, shrugged off his involvement, saying he had seen a problem and was happy to help.
“If I can help someone it’s worth it, for myself it doesn’t matter,” Duncan told Global News, a Canadian national news website that has been covering the Camp Hope story.
Gerber said the camp has reopened, but the expense of fixing it up will top $300,000, most of which is covered by insurance.
The cost of clearing debris and repairing rooftops is expected to reach about $150,000, while rebuilding the power lines will cost nearly $125,000, about $75,000 less than Gerber had estimated in an interview with the Adventist Review shortly after the storm. Those expenses do not include some fence repairs, food loss of $1,000 to $3,000, and the use of trucks, chainsaws, two excavators, and other equipment in the cleanup.
Watch video filmed by camp director Bill Gerber during the ice storm
Of the hundreds of trees in the camp, nearly every one lost branches or suffered even worse damage.
“Some trees fell over due to the weight of the ice. Some were so badly damaged we cut them down,” Gerber said. “And we took some trees down as they were too close to our power lines and our electrician recommended we take them down.”
Power was restored to the camp in mid-January after a 10-day blackout and just 30 hours before a large delegation showed up for a conference. The camp hosted a gathering of Mennonite women last weekend.
Gerber said the camp —a conference, camping and wedding center — would be ready for the outdoor groups that usually start to show up in May and would hold the summer camp program as planned.
“We have been totally blessed with the willing help of volunteers. To tackle this clean up job with just our staff would be so overwhelming I don’t even want to think about it,” he said. “As the weather gets better we will have work bees every Sunday until the mess is all cleaned up.”
He said volunteers were welcome on weekdays as well and he anticipated at least another month of work before the cleanup ended.
He said people who wanted to help but could not visit the camp in person could donate toward the purchase of saplings and mature trees for planting, food to feed volunteers, and fuel for the cleanup equipment.
He also said prayers for safety would be appreciated. No one has been injured during the removal of tons of debris from the grounds, but the cleanup team soon will start climbing trees to remove broken branches.
“There is an element of risk in dealing with these trees, whether on the ground or still standing,” he said. “We do our best to keep everyone healthy and whole!”