August 2, 2022
House fire helps MDS volunteer empathize with disaster survivors
“I just know God is using our experience for his Kingdom.”
As a project director with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada, Jim Reimer knows it can be stressful for a homeowner to cope with the loss of their house.
He just never expected to experience it first-hand.
That’s what happened July 6 when, late at night, he was awakened from a deep sleep by his wife, Marlene, who heard their dog barking.
She looked outside the window and saw a vehicle on fire.
After calling 911, they evacuated the house, hoping they could put it out themselves. But the fire was too big, soon jumping to the garage and then to the house itself.
“These things spread a lot faster than you can imagine,” he said, recalling that night.
The local fire department put out the fire, but the house—their home in Steinbach, Man. since 1983—is likely a total loss.
“It was unbelievable, just absolutely unbelievable,” Reimer said. “These things happen somewhere else to someone else, but not to you.”
The fire most likely started in a pinched extension cord plugged in from their camper to the garage.
“It was just an accident,” he said. “One of those things that happen.”
What isn’t accidental is how people have responded to help Jim and Marlene, parents of four grown children.
“We’ve experienced a lot of positive things in the aftermath of the fire,” he said. “The generosity of people is incredible.”
In addition to the damage to the house, Reimer—who owns and operates a plumbing and heating business—also lost all his tools, inventory, company vehicles and equipment.
“We lost virtually everything, but we’re okay,” he said.
Fortunately, the couple, who are part of Steinbach’s Evangelical Mennonite Church, were able to recover some personal items from less damaged parts of the house.
This included their precious photo albums, which didn’t even suffer water damage.
“God at work”
— Jim Reimer
Looking back, Reimer knows they are fortunate.
“If not for the dog barking, and my wife being a light sleeper and hearing the dog, we might have died,” he said.
When he looks in the rear view mirror at the fire, Reimer sees “God at work.”
This includes how the experience is helping him empathize more with those MDS helps—people like Alicia, a woman in Elkhorn, Manitoba who also lost her home to a fire.
That’s where Reimer is directing an MDS project to rebuild her house.
Unlike his situation, Alicia doesn’t have the same kind of supportive community, resources and insurance to help her recover from the fire.
“That’s where MDS comes in,” he said. “We can be those things to her.”
The fire at his house also opened doors to help him find volunteers and contractors in nearby Kola, about a 15-minute drive from Elkhorn.
In mid-July he was invited to share about his experience at the Sunday morning service of the Kola Evangelical Mennonite Church.
“I was able to share about our disaster with them, and how they can help someone else who has experienced a disaster,” he said.
After he shared, members of the church offered to help MDS assist Alicia, and also passed along contact information for others who could be of assistance to complete the project.
At the same time, the fire also helps him empathize with Alicia better.
“It’s definitely given me a deeper understanding of what she has gone through,” he said.
As for the fire itself, Reimer doesn’t try to understand why it happened.
“I just know God is using our experience for his Kingdom. The Lord has blessed us. Now I can pass that blessing on to Alicia and others through MDS.”
John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications