A Ministry of Presence and Help

June 28, 2013

by Laurent Trabadello, Regional Director

Photo: Samaritan's Purse volunteers pack hygiene kits for flood-affected members of the Siksika Nation.

"Oki.” Welcome. These are the first words written on the beautiful wooden sign that stands at the entrance of the Siksika Nation, 100km east of Calgary. The Blackfoot greeting is a vibrant testimony of the hospitable nature of First Nations people. Their story is filled with joys and victories, but also sorrows and tragedies.  Both man-made and natural disasters have befallen the original dwellers of our land. Their constant struggle with man and nature has forced them to grow ever stronger, more resilient and to develop an exemplary community spirit.

Natural disasters don’t discriminate. They hit hard and intersect with lives without regard for wealth, status, or nationality. Last week’s floods were no exception. Multi-million dollar homes were inundated with brown muddy water on the banks of the Elbow River in Calgary. But so were the modest homes of people living in Little Chicago, Little Washington, South Camp, and North Camp, all close-knit communities of the Siksika Nation.

With little warning and almost no time to gather some belongings, 220 families had to evacuate their homes and seek shelter among relatives, friends, or in the Deerfoot Sportsplex located on higher ground.

While helicopters and media reports concentrated on the stunning images of Calgary as the large metropolis flooded, fewer reports focused on the devastation taking place among our First Nations brothers and sisters. Entire homes were engulfed in the chocolate brown waters of the swelling Bow River as it invaded the low plains.

Residents who had trailers were able to camp out on higher ground, keeping watch on their devastated properties below.

More than one hundred people were accommodated, fed, and cared for at the Deerfoot Sportsplex. The large arena is also being used to store generous donations of food, bottled water, and clothing that have poured in. As a relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse responds based on expressed needs. When we spoke with our Blackfoot friends earlier this week, they asked for hygiene supplies. So we mobilized a small army of generous volunteers who worked hard to put together 500 family hygiene kits that were delivered to the Sportsplex.

As we come alongside our friends from the Siksika Nation, we are offering a ministry of presence and tangible help. In return, we have the privilege of learning from their exemplary community spirit, and partaking in their legendary hospitality. Maybe something hopeful can come out of this disaster. Perhaps people who have not always connected can come together and build each other up, in the spirit of the Good Samaritan.