Cape Breton storm victims receive visit from Billy Graham Ministries

George Mortimer • CBC News • October 21, 2016

The Thanksgiving Day rainstorm that caused millions of dollars in damage in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality has prompted Billy Graham Ministries to send a group of its chaplains to help with recovery efforts.

They're working closely with the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan's Purse, based in Calgary, which has set up a command post at the Salvation Army in Sydney.

Pat Miller of Montreal is one of three chaplains visiting homeowners affected by the flood damage.

'Hurting very badly'

"They're hurting very badly," she said. "They've lost a lot of their memories, a lot of their precious mementos.

"They've lost everything in their basements, in their homes, from photographs up to their fridges and stoves. Some people have lost everything," she said.

"As a chaplain we can go in, we can talk to them for an hour or so. We help them cope. We help them see the hope behind all this devastation and we give them love and we pray with them."

Loss and trauma

The chaplain co-ordinator, Anne Gillies, spent time with those who lost their homes to wildfire last spring in Fort McMurray, Alta. She said the impact of Cape Breton's flooding is serious, both from the standpoint of material and emotional trauma.

"It's that same kind of scenario: 'This could never have happened to us.'"

Gillies said the chaplains are specially trained to deal with difficult situations, to bring spiritual and emotional care to individuals following trauma. That training includes several courses in critical incident stress management.

Trained to help

"If people have a faith base — we're not here to push anything — but people reach out for hope and for healing in times of crisis like this," she said.

One of the chaplains' first visits was to Tara Kennedy of George Street in Sydney, whose basement was flooded and whose roof was severely damaged in the storm.

"They were very concerned about how we were dealing with it emotionally," Kennedy said. "'How are kids were handling it?' It's heartbreaking when you see things that you saved your whole life, pictures of your kids, their first toys and you lose all that stuff.

"So they came and they kind of reassured us that, you know, life does go on after the storm and you pick up and you build it better, and they make sure that you have good support systems, some friends, some family."

The chaplains prayed for Kennedy, her children and her home, she said.

The group expects to remain in Sydney until at least mid-November.