Richard and Bonita Given of Erskine have endured something few of us will ever have to face – their home was destroyed by fire at the dawn of 2019.
It’s been a painful season in their lives – no question about it. But as one chats with the warm, engaging and welcoming couple, there is an unmistakable sense of gratitude shining through as well.
They are grateful for their solid Christian faith that has seen them through, and also for the surrounding community which has, without fail, helped out in so many ways.
As to the day of the fire, the suddenness of it all was of course overwhelming.
“We had our pastor and his wife over for lunch that day,” recalls Bonita. “They left at about 4 p.m. and we just both went back to what we were doing.
“At that time, our house had a shed on it. Richard was in there, and I was in the back bedroom sewing.
“All of a sudden we heard this banging on the door – the neighbour told us a fire had started in the garage and the flames were leaping everywhere.”
The cause of the fire was ultimately thought to be from a power bar.
Ultimately, the couple, who are retired pastors, lost virtually everything and it was eight months until a new home would be available. There is no question that such an experience plunges a family into a disorienting, disillusioning and painful time.
And while most material possessions can be replaced, lost heirlooms and special items from photos to mementos of course simply can’t be.
But comfort and support came in other ways – including from neighbours who consistently checked in with the couple to see how they could help out.
“Without the support of this community, and friends in Boyle, and family and friends in Ontario, we would not be where we are today,” said Richard.
The span of organizations and folks that reached out to the couple is striking, from the Stettler & District Family and Community Support Services, the Erskine Free Evangelical Church, and the Erskine community at large (which also hosted a spaghetti fundraising dinner).
The outpouring of help was deeply touching and inspiring for the Givens, who hadn’t been in Erskine for a long time at that point – a mere six months.
Also, various Stettler retailers were quick to help out, too, along with the Erskine post office and Karen and Ken Bellows of Stettler (Bonita’s sister and her husband).
Folks would generously approach them with gift cards, donations of clothing and toiletries for example.
“That strong kindness was the thing that carried us through,” explained Richard.
“There were times within in the first few weeks when someone would show up with an act of kindness, and you just had to surrender to it. There is such a strong, spiritual component to kindness.”
Erskine resident Gerald Height also offered them a home with him until the dust settled. “What a generous gesture that was, which worked out so well for us,” he said.
“You would think we had known each other for 25 years.”
“It’s the people that make the difference in the quality of one’s life – regardless of one’s circumstances.”
As mentioned, the couple’s Christian faith is absolutely central to their lives, and of course this also shaped their perspective throughout the trying circumstances.
Bonita said she came to a place of looking forward to seeing what God was going to do in the community as a result of the fire.
“For me, letting go of some of the cherished things has been a bit of a ‘God’ journey, showing me that I’m still too tied to this earth,” explained Richard. “I can listen back to my own sermons over the past 25 to 30 years and still not get it,” he said of the lessons that can be learned from such an experience.
“Where the Bible talks about God being our provider and our caregiver – those words have very little meaning unless you’ve gone through something,” added Bonita. “Seriously, I have no stress because my belief now is that it doesn’t matter what you go through, you won’t be conquered if your faith is in the right place.”
“God was the stable line through this – the rock, the carrier – all of those things. But he also used people (to help us), and I don’t think we would have gone through this journey that well without the human interaction we encountered.”