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Fort McMurray Evacuees Receive Timely Words of Comfort from the Canadian Bible Society

As raging wildfires crept close to the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray this spring, the wind shifted on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Suddenly, the massive inferno raced towards the city, forcing the evacuation all 80,000 residents, many fleeing for their lives.

The worst natural disaster in Alberta’s history, the fire consumed more than 2,400 structures in the heart of Canada’s oil sands, with whole neighbourhoods burned to the ground.

In the midst of the calamity, Marvin Busenius, Canadian Bible Society (CBS) Regional Director of Ministry Advancement, found a “divine appointment.”

Driving back from a conference in Grande Prairie, Busenius stopped in Whitecourt on May 7 to get some much-needed sleep before travelling home to Edmonton. As he entered the usually quiet hotel, he found it packed with evacuees from Fort McMurray.

A highly-relational person, Busenius began striking up conversations and heard story after story of lost homes, devastation and destruction.

“I was there talking to people and listening to their stories until about 2 a.m.,” Busenius said.

Many Edmonton churches have hosted congregations from Fort McMurray, Busenius reported. Churches have billeted evacuees to homes, had special services just for them, and provided food, clothes, and a loving atmosphere.

With about 70 copies of the Words of Comfort booklet and some New Testaments in his trunk, he began passing them around to people who were interested.

“These Words of Comfort booklets contain Scriptures, like Psalm 46, that bring hope and healing in times of crisis,” Busenius explained. “They are also easy to give out as they fit in a shirt pocket or purse.”

The next morning, as he was checking out, a number of people came up to him, some of whom had read the Scriptures overnight, and asked for more booklets. Busenius stayed until after 2 p.m. and gave away all the Bible Society material he had.

For many people, surviving a disaster can be “a faith encounter moment,” Busenius said. “There are people coming to faith, but also others who, through these circumstances, see their faith bloom.”

He said his greatest joy in the midst of a disaster like this is “being an agent of hope.”

“For these people, who are so overwhelmed by their losses, for them to see some hope – and in Whom this hope comes from – is so important,” he explained.

Busenius has been meeting with pastors and leaders from Fort McMurray churches and setting up Scripture distribution centres.

With 2,000 New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs, 4,600 copies of John’s Gospel and 7,000 Words of Comfort booklets recently delivered to the CBS office in Edmonton, Busenius is busy getting the Word out to church leaders and evacuation centres.

After the High River floods in 2013, residents received bottles of water with a New Testament from the Bible Society wrapped around them.

In all, it is estimated that flood victims were given over 25,000 Scripture resources, including about 12,000 Words of Comfort booklets.

With the more than 80,000 people affected by the Fort McMurray fire, an even greater need for Scripture resources is anticipated.

– by Doris Fleck