Monday, May 23, 2016

Faith Groups Respond to Fort McMurray Wildfire

In the wake of the terrible wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, there is a lot to be thankful for.

We can be thankful that the damage and devastation wasn’t worse.

We can be thankful for the safe evacuation of so many people, under the most difficult of circumstances.

We can be thankful for the heroic work of firefighters and other emergency responders.

We can be thankful for the work of the Red Cross, and for how Canadians have so generously responded by donating $67 million to help those affected by the fires.

And we can be thankful for how faith groups are stepping up to respond.

What’s that? Maybe you didn’t know, but across the country Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups are responding to help people from Fort McMurray.

If you didn’t know, don’t feel bad. Little, or nothing, has been mentioned in the media about how faith groups are gearing up to help, or already responding.

There are a couple of reasons for the lack of attention. One is that it’s hard for the media to take note if there’s nobody in the newsroom paying attention to faith. 

The other is that the Government of Canada decided to match donations only for one agency, the Red Cross. 

The result, predictably, is that all the media attention was driven to that agency, along with almost all the donations—over $65 million, to date.

Faith groups have felt the impact. Fundraisers for church groups I spoke to told me of donors calling to give money, only to decide against it when they discovered their groups had no government match. One of those lost donations was for $25,000.

I understand why; we all want our giving to go further, and the Red Cross is deserving of support. 

But every agency has a unique role to fill. All of them can really use help to do their work. Every donation, even if it isn’t matched, will make a difference.

And before someone takes umbrage at the new federal government, believing it’s an indication of how it is anti-Christian or anti-faith, I don’t think that’s the case.

I don’t think Government officials meant to consciously omit faith groups when deciding how and where to provide the match. 

In their rush to encourage Canadians to give. I just think they were unaware that faith groups would also be responding.

Like how the media missed it because they don’t have people on staff to pay attention to faith groups, it just wasn’t on the government’s radar, either.

If it was on their radar, they’d know that many groups are mobilizing to help. This includes the Salvation Army, which has been providing food and water to displaced residents. 

It also includes World Renew, the disaster response arm of the Christian Reformed Church, and Mennonite Disaster Service, which does the same thing for Mennonite churches. 

Both groups specialize in rebuilding homes for people caught in disasters, especially for low income individuals and families.

Other groups that are responding include Presbyterian World Service & Development, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, the Primates World Relief & Development Fund (Anglican Church of Canada), Canadian Lutheran World Relief, the United Church of Canada, the Adventist Relief and Development Agency, and Islamic Relief Canada. Various Roman Catholic parishes and Jewish organizations are also collecting funds. 

There are likely others that I have missed.

After the last election, I asked Liberal MP John McKay, an evangelical Christian, about his hopes for how the new government might view its relations with faith groups.

If the Prime Minister was going to fulfill his promises in the areas of foreign aid, refugees and other social issues,  McKay said, “he is going to need everyone, but in particular the religious community,” since “they are the main” players in those areas.

In the case of the Alberta wildfires, faith groups may not be the main players, but they have a role to play—and they could use your help.

From the May 21, 2016 Winnipeg Free Press.

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