January 26, 2018
By Janice Biehn
With files from the Rev. Lesley Hand, Executive Director, On Eagle’s Wings
As families continue the long and arduous process of rebuilding after the Fort McMurray wildfire – some expect to go well into 2018 — parents have reported high levels of prolonged stress. So the Anglican parishes of All Saints and St. Thomas, Fort McMurray partnered with On Eagle’s Wings (OEW) to provide Bible Camps for children ages four to 10. Camps took place over five days in August of 2016 and 2017. Each day’s session was three hours, with 52 children attending over the two years.
“Parents expressed deep gratitude that the camps offered them some respite time and relaxation, confident in the knowledge that their children were having fun in a safe and spiritually enriching environment,” says the Rev. Lesley Hand, Executive Director of OEW.
Related: PWRDF in Fort Mac, one year later
The camps were designed to assist children in recovery and readjustment after the trauma of the fire and subsequent evacuation, and, where homes were lost, through the rebuilding process. To make the camp as accessible as possible to all children in the community, each camp was run on a drop-in basis, with no charge. Financial support from The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund was vital in covering the cost of the camp, thus ensuring fees would not be a barrier to children participating.
“We were able to meet the children’s spiritual and emotional needs through experiencing the loving presence of God through God’s Word and related age-appropriate activities, as well as the ministry of presence provided by the leadership team,” says Rev. Hand.
Three-year-old Henry, a participant last summer, just wanted to run, recalls Rev. Hand. “He spent a lot of time in the toy room and playing outdoors.” But under the kind and attentive wing of volunteer Cam, they began to see a change in Henry. “We noticed that with Cam by his side, Henry was able to participate in more activities. Gradually the toy room became less attractive and not quite so necessary! Cam’s gentle presence was calming Henry. When we embarked on our craft marathon on the last day, we expected Henry to play outdoors most of the afternoon. Not so! With Cam by his side to steady and guide him, Henry spent over an hour making flip-flops to walk with Jesus, hearts of love, and he painted a rock with a picture of his favourite Bible story.”
The OEW Bible Camp curricula GRACE (God Rescues All Children Everywhere) and POP! (Promise of Presence) were ideally suited to the task. Bible stories revealed how God is always present and loves and protects His children, especially so in times of great need. Supplies were donated by individuals and congregations who support OEW’s ministry in the north. All Saints and St. Thomas provided a venue for the camp, snacks, janitorial help, hospitality for the team including accommodation and some meals, and promotion of the camps.
OEW volunteers led the camps and in 2017 one staff member also led the team. Local volunteers, clergy, and youth from the Anglican parishes also assisted, providing ample individual attention to children who most needed help. Shawn Campbell of Ponoka, Alta., volunteered in 2016 and recalled the experience fondly in an OEW newsletter. He was hesitant to go at first, but didn’t regret it. “I loved just being with the kids and their families,” he wrote. “To spend time and talk with them was a real privilege. Their hospitality impressed me. Talk about going out of their way to make us feel welcome – thank you. Thankful that I went!”
“OEW has always enjoyed a strong, close relationship with the Anglican parishes in Ft. McMurray,” says Rev. Hand. “We are thankful for their financial and volunteer support over the years for our ministry in remote northern communities. It was both and honour and delight to have been able to lend our expertise and resources to help our friends with the healing and recovery process.”