It was after 8:00pm on Monday evening when I phoned the Rev Bob Gardner and his congregation of Holy Trinity United in Elliot Lake. I had flown into Toronto from Saskatoon’s Truth and Reconciliation event, and was met with the horrifying news about the Algo Mall collapse on the airport screens.
I assumed that I would be leaving a message at the church at that late hour. But, no. A woman named Ruth answered. She was among those cleaning up from having served another meal to the many rescue workers. Bob was still in the hall so we had a good talk.
Bob offered a grounded clarity about what people in Elliot Lake were going through, both those who live there and the rescue workers from throughout the province. That evening he had been accompanying the rescuers through their grief. Their search had been fruitless and they knew that there were many who were angry with them as they stopped due to the danger. (Events have moved on since then and I’ve had further conversation with Bob, but this was the moment I first reached him.)
Bob’s military background, including time in a war zone, had clearly prepared him well for carrying the healing ministry of Christ into such a traumatic week.
He was at the site of the collapse within fifteen minutes, and has walked with people there ever since. His asked me to reach out to all of the police and emergency units involved in the rescue attempts. It has been my privilege to carry his gratitude – and that of the Holy Trinity congregation and the broader church – to people who don’t likely yet know about the depth of gratitude hidden under the voices of understandable grief and frustration.
Darren is a young fire fighter at the Elliot Lake Fire Department. He, for example, couldn’t say enough about the difference that “the ladies” at the church had made by providing home-cooked meals throughout the week. “There’s a big difference between fast food and home-cooked meals at a time like this, and it gives the guys a sense of home when they’re so far away from home.”
At times like this, when I reach out to a community on behalf of the church, it’s always good to know that I can assure them the whole church is praying for them and their community. It’s also wonderful to see how Christian love is lived out by so many parts of the body. The Rev. Will Kunder, Executive Secretary of Manitou Conference, has offered to preach for Bob this Sunday. What a grace. Bob was supposed to be on vacation this week, and I’m sure he is exhausted. Will is stepping in to carry some of the load of care.
Elliot Lake is a strong community which has come through trying times before. Bob tells me that the local Foodland (Sobey’s) whose inventory has been crushed, has assured their employees that they will continue to have jobs and pay. But many will continue to rely on food banks and this is, I’m told, where financial support is most needed.
The steady, strong voices of those caring for others in Elliot Lake are upheld by the same God who Isaiah proclaimed: “… but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40: 31)
Thanks be to God, and thanks be to friends in Christ who demonstrate how it looks to wait upon the Lord in times of destruction and death.