In the weeks following the wildfires that ravaged the village of Lytton, British Columbia (BC), Canada, and threatened neighboring communities during the summer of 2021, ADRA Canada continued to support the beleaguered province.
In early August, the British Columbia Wildfire Service put out a dire message: with more than 30 active fires posing a threat to public safety and more than 1,235,000 acres (and more than half a million hectares) burned, wildfire season in BC was far from over.
While firefighters are on the front lines battling the raging fires, ADRA, in partnership with the British Columbia Conference (BCC) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is also on the ground assisting in evacuee housing efforts, managing a warehouse large enough to process a huge number of in-kind donations, and establishing the church’s disaster emergency response capacity in the province.
After the Lytton Creek fire destroyed the town of Lytton and two First Nations communities, the Lytton First Nations Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) was moved to Camp Hope to help manage the evacuees being relocated to the camp. Brian Wahl, BCC youth ministries director, was appointed Emergency Management Associate to the EOC. “I connected with the ADRA team to receive guidance on how to work in an emergency. I praise God for ADRA and the incredible support we received,” he said.
In a discussion about the impacts of the evacuations and the loss of property, Campbell Page, Indigenous Ministries coordinator for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada (SDACC), noted that “after a tragedy, what is often needed is for both leaders and members to come together in a space. More than one space, [they need] to express grief, loss, hope, and gratitude for rebuilding.”
Page affirmed there is hope for residents of the region, however. “The Lytton First Nation, like many Indigenous Peoples and Nations in Canada, are resilient, resourceful, and able to respond to and rebuild from tragedies when they strike. When events like the Lytton fire occur, those characteristics go into action through the Nations’ leadership and individual members. Such has taken place over the weeks since the fire,” he said.
In a busy summer for ADRA working in BC, reports of wildfires in northern Ontario, Canada, spelled further complications and additional deployment of ADRA volunteer teams to the Thunder Bay area. Hundreds of active fires, many out of control, meant more First Nations and other remote communities were evacuated.
Daniel Saugh, ADRA’s Canadian Programs manager, continues to be instrumental in ADRA Canada’s quick response. “This work,” he shared, “is beyond what we can do. But in collaboration with our conferences, churches, and members who are our volunteers, we are meeting the need and providing relief. We have witnessed the hand of God opening doors and granting us His favor. I pray that we will shine and show a true picture of the character of God in our humanitarian efforts right here at home.”
Back in BC, with its experience in in-kind donation management, ADRA Canada drew the provincial government's attention.
Alain Normand, ADRA Canada’s senior emergency manager and incident commander for the BC wildfire operation, explained that within 17 days of making the first offer to the BC government, ADRA was fully operational in Coldstream with a donation management warehouse. “There are three areas in the warehouse,” Normand said, “receiving and warehousing, assessment and triage, and the sorting and packaging areas. We have been averaging about 20 volunteers a day from the central Okanagan area. Still, the need is tremendous, and we require many more volunteers. Training and coaching are provided, but we urge people to consider training with ADRA in peacetime in preparation for trouble. We are receiving goods from all over the province, and the warehouse is slowly filling up. If the experience of Fort Mac taught us anything, it is that a 150,000 square-foot [about 14,000 square-meter] warehouse will eventually be filled.
“Consequently, we will work with shelters, evacuation centers, and supporter agencies to provide them with what their clients need to get back to normalcy. Once homes are rebuilt in the final phase of operation, we plan to have an online catalog of donated furniture that clients will select. On a personal note, I want to affirm that my wife, Nicole, and I have been praying for almost two decades to be able to do this kind of work for the Lord. We aim to show God’s love in action, not just words, encouraging everyone to help.”
Many of those affected by the wildfires are asking the question, “Where do we go next?”
“Mountainview Camp [Camp Hope],” Campbell Page said, “was one organization asked to provide that place. The on-the-ground leaders and staff there said, ‘We have to help. We have to make this home.’ As cultures and faiths interact, we need to remember we are all Creator’s kids. That shared gift of shared humanity is the starting point for everyone who now calls Camp Hope home.
“It is a call to work together for the good of the Lytton First Nation, no strings attached. We have an opportunity to welcome our new friends in their emergency and build lasting and eternal relationships.”
Wesley Torres, BCC president, said, “The greatest human response that reflects the glory of God and the character of Jesus Christ is when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, can we selflessly and genuinely help those around us who are in pain and vulnerable. True Christianity is meeting others at the lowest physical, emotional, and spiritual points in their lives. It is going through personal and heartbreaking community experiences to become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. The BCC administration and Camp Hope management used that motivation as we saw the community's needs. Our priority was to help that hurting community.
“When we do that honestly and sincerely,” Torres added, “we not only assist others in overcoming their hopelessness but ultimately, we point them to the One who can solve all human dilemmas.”
Peggy Caesar is a communication specialist for Adventist Development and Relief Agency Canada.