Thursday January 26th, 2012. I flew into Fort McMurray for the very first time. It was supposed to be a “consulting weekend” at the Fort McMurray Alliance Church, an opportunity to tell my story of what God had done at Redwood Park Church in Thunder Bay. The idea was to encourage the church folks here. Instead it turned out to be an opportunity for a whole bunch of folk in Fort McMurray to tell me their story, sharing hopes and aspirations for their lives, their church and their city. In the end it simply became a life altering experience.
That first drive into the city from the Airport was captivating. I had no idea. The city lights, the traffic, the excitement, the modern urban feel to it all – I was blown away from the get go. Well maybe not by Keyano College’s purple monstrosity. The parking or the lack of and the 30 minute wait to get into BP’s for dinner caught me off guard. I had expected something that looked and behaved a bit more like Thunder Bay, also a similar sized resource based city. But no this was clearly Thunder Bay on steroids. There was a buzz to the place, in the middle of nowhere, and so unexpected. I’ll admit it, I was looking for the “Oil Can,” it’s on every news clip. But what I saw made that sorry image disappear into irrelevance, and of course a year later, it’s gone. Sweet!
No sooner had I arrived at the home of my hosts, getting ready to enter into significant church consultant like discussions, when I get this text: “Hear you’re in town. Join a few of us guys at Earls for wings. We’re here now – Mark.” Mark a few years back was a student at Lakehead University and attended Redwood Park Church. I was torn. I wanted to connect with Mark and his friends, I didn’t want to bail on the guys who had invited me to their city. I’ve only been here a few hours and I’ve got more invites out then time to accept them all. That hasn’t changed …
I choose to bail and one of the guys said, “Hey if you need a designated driver, give me a call.” Sure he said it in jest, but still it was not exactly the typical line I had been used to hearing form church leaders. I assured him I would I would behave. The guys at Earls were all young 20’s to mid 30’s. I’m not usually the old guy at church like gatherings, but I sure was here! But this really wasn’t churchish – it was just a group of guys some who did church, some who didn’t. The conversation went from trucks, to guns, to snowmachines, to God. It all happened real naturally. Totally authentic. I had never been in the midst of a dynamic quite like this before. And yeah I was okay to be told that my base level RAM 1500 SXT probably wasn’t “enough truck” for Fort Mac. I still have it, it handles Fort Mac quite fine, thank-you. But now I wasn’t just getting hooked on the city, I was getting hooked on the people who call this place home.
Went and checked out the sites like Syncrude and Suncor. Wow the kinds of passes you need to get in and go deep rivals a top flight military installation. When I got into Suncor I was awed yet again. Suncor is Mordor. And the equipment at Snycrude, they must have stolen them from Avatar. And yes I asked to see the infamous duck ponds – no one was impressed, but they did oblige. Apparently the shotgun type sounds seem to work. It’s tough when the eyes of the entire world are on you. Tougher when you realize that your own young employees hold an incredibly deep passion for environmental ethics. It’s so not what the media portrays.
I could go on and on, but yeah, the unexpected happened. I fell in love with a city and a people who call this city home. And I fell in love with a church family called Fort McMurray Alliance – a church family that is so not stereotypical church, but instead are incredibly real and refreshing! It didn’t take long to begin to get a clear sense that I could call Fort McMurray home and be jazzed serving at the Alliance Church.
So a year later??? No regrets. None at all. The love affair has only grown deeper. In my next post I’ll list some of the reasons my passion for this city has grown. But to wrap this post up, wow, am I ever thankful that I got “ambushed” a year ago. I didn’t see it coming. But then God knew what he was doing, “get ‘that boy’ up here and let him see what’s really here.” Yeah, I think ultimately it was a “God thing,” because our God is even more passionate about this city and the people who live here. And I believe He has some amazing plans of His own for the city and the people who live here, I’m looking forward to what He’s going to do through the church family I’m now a part of and all of God’s people who call Fort McMurray home! To God be the glory!
And again tonight it’s “Wings Night,” and I’m totally looking forward to it.