The Ottawa-Gatineau Tornado Blessing

Woodvale Pentecostal’s Ottawa-Gatineau Tornado Blessing

Woodvale Pentecostal’s Story

by Stacey McKenzie

Pastor Mark Scarr had long been a strong believer in the power of influence, and the eternal impact it could have in a local church’s surrounding community—beyond anything that happened inside of the church walls. As lead pastor of Woodvale Pentecostal Church in Nepean, Ontario, Mark had long pondered: “If we ever closed our doors, would anyone miss us?” Mark soon got the answer to his question. He and his congregation were ready to respond when a tremendous challenge—and opportunity—presented itself right on their doorstep. His church had just finished a series on “Influence” when a sequence of powerful tornadoes hit the Ottawa-Gatineau region on September 21, 2018. The biggest one was categorized as an EF-2 with winds reaching 225km/h. Mark saw one touch down just outside his back window. “It felt like a bomb had dropped on our neighbourhood. We did have phone alerts that a tornado was coming, but our location hadn’t been identified as a danger zone, and most of us had ignored the warnings. People were gripped by fear. One lady came running into our church, shaking. She was distressed until some youth who had been arriving for their Friday night activities offered to pray for her, and she agreed. One of our board members had been dropping her daughter off in our parking lot and was attempting to close the car door just as the tornado descended—she had difficulty closing the door for quite a while. It was a frightening experience.”

Mark noted that a Chris Tomlin concert had been hosted at the church at the same time just the day before, Thursday, which was an unusual day for a concert. At least 2,000 people had been streaming into the church. Mark shudders to think what could have happened if the concert had been held that Friday instead, and is thankful for God’s sovereignty in sparing so many people from serious harm.

Weeks before, a men’s breakfast had been planned for the next morning, and 110 men had signed up—but because of the crisis, just 40 men showed up. Instead of cancelling the breakfast and returning home, the men quickly agreed to turn their attention and energy towards helping with the immediate needs in the community. Arlington Woods and Craig Henry, two of the nearby neighbourhoods, were hit particularly hard. The men went knocking from door to door, making sure that everyone in each household was OK and asking if any assistance was needed. They spent time chopping down trees and cleaning up yards as needed. Volunteers worked on preparing meals for those who needed them. On Sunday, there was no church service, but instead, the Woodvale church went out and served everyone who had a need. The neighbours were so touched by the expressions of concern and practical assistance that at least 300 of them attended a free Thanksgiving dinner that was held at the church the following weekend.

Church finances weren’t at all affected by the crisis; if anything, they saw an improvement. Two consecutive Sunday services were missed, and along with those, the offerings—but on the first re-opening service, budgets were exceeded. They were able to restock their food bank quickly after supplies had been given out after the disaster. The Arlington Woods Free Methodist Church down the street had lost their roof, and Woodvale invited them to host services on their grounds until they could repair their own property. While the church was able to gain access to their own auditorium for Sunday services, they did take Woodvale up on their offer and used their building for other short-term purposes.

Mark noted that the more the church opened their hands, the more God met their needs, and that as a faith community, they learned a lot through the crisis—and developed stronger connections well beyond the residential community. Woodvale had recently expanded their parking lot, and this turned out to be a timely blessing—their church grounds became a command centre for the city’s Red Cross and other emergency relief operations. Just over a week after the tornadoes, on a Saturday, information meetings were held on the church grounds and at least 600 people showed up. The Free Methodist church came alongside them to help with outreach.
Mark hopes that stronger relationships can continue to be built as the region recovers. In recent times they had begun building more intentional bridges in nearby communities, supplying backpacks and school supplies to a large number of school-aged children, and making donations to a local school and a soccer program catering to under-served and at-risk youth. “In our recent series on ‘Influence,’ we encouraged everyone to think of Moses, who had a simple staff in his hand that God was able to use (Exodus 4:2). We should ask ourselves: what is it that we have, that God has entrusted to us, that He can use? Once we identify it, we need to release it to God, living with an open hand. Then God can use it to release blessing. And the more we bless others, the more He will entrust to us. The community is not here for us—we’re here for them.”

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Stacey McKenzie is the communications and publications manager at the International Office of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.

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