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Church and insurance agency answer emergency

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A sawmill explosion in Prince George, B.C., Apr. 23 killed at least two people and seriously injured 8 others. None of the casualties were members of the Westwood MB Church family, but the congregation got involved right away.

For church members, said lead pastor Mark Wessner, it was an opportunity to reach out, to respond to people in need, to lead efforts to care for victims, rather than following along, once everything is settled.

The Lakeland Mill company and community groups also took action to help those directly affected. Various parties formulated a broad plan, and began the detail work of devising ways to administer assistance. Needs varied widely – from unexpected family expenses to travel to the Vancouver General Hospital burn unit (where three affected workers were flown), to caring for those who were injured, but treated in Prince George.

On Apr. 29, the Sunday following the mill explosion, Westwood MB members contributed some $8,000 in a special offering for the victims. The MAX insurance mutual aid fund pledged to provide another $2,000, meaning $10,000 became available to provide quick assistance.

“We are working with Lakelands Mills to determine the best way of ensuring the funds go to the families who have the most immediate needs,” Wessner said. Meanwhile, two other community-based funds are focusing on medium- to long-term help.

(Built on the foundation of a long tradition of mutual aid in Mennonite communities, MAX Canada Insurance Company was incorporated in 2002 to “combines state-of-the-art insurance with a strong commitment to Anabaptist values.” The Share Fund provides a one-time financial grant – in partnership with a faith community – to individuals not covered by insurance during a period of financial hardship caused by loss, health crisis, loss of employment, or sudden disabilities.)

As discussions continued on how to extend effective financial relief, the church also found itself extending Christ’s love and providing care by hosting two funeral services made necessary by the tragedy.

—Barrie McMaster

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