Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Creating a new life A.F.- After Fire

It has been three weeks since that day that will forever be etched in our minds. It was Lois who some time last week commented on our how our life B.F. (Before Fire) compares to our life A.F. (After Fire). Kind of catchy in a sad sort of way.

It has been a tremendous up and down whirlwind over these past three weeks. From a great moments of generosity to frustrating moments of thinking about all that needs to be done, we have felt a wide range of emotions. Ready or not, life goes on, and we are so grateful for the grace God has bestowed upon us through others, and how the prayers of the saints are sustaining us.

I will start by showing those of you out there who haven't had a chance to see them yet, some pictures of our house as it was burning. For the record, these "great" photographs were taken by Bobby Petkau, who came to the fire with his Dad Henry and I about 45 minutes after we were dropped off at the Petkau's place by the firefighter at around 1:00 am on Tuesday, January 27th. I am thankful he was willing to take pictures, as they are a stark reminder of that night.

First our house, in all its former winter wonder.

This is what greeted us as we walked up the driveway about 1 1/2 hours after the fire stared.

The view from the front upon arrival.
The north side of the house, which is where our bedroom was located, and the balcony that we exited the house from, was the furthest from the source of the fire and was the last to burn.

By the time we were leaving, about 30 minutes later, there wasn't much left.

Pretty crazy pictures, eh? I still sometimes shake my head when I see them. It is amazing to think how fast and completely a house can burn, and the fact that God in his mercy got us out of there without too many serious injuries. In regards to what caused the fire, I met with the fire inspector to discuss the possible causes for insurance purposes. While it could have been the wood stove (which had a fire burning in it when we went to bed), it could just as easily have been the fan plugged into an outlet behind the stove, or 6 receptacle plug in that we had put in a normal outlet to plug in our VCR, TV, DVD player and Nintendo a few feet away. (By the way, the inspector asked if it was a white one, and I said it was, and he replied "Those are bad - you should use a power bar with a surge protector instead." I told him I would pass the warning along!) Basically, the real world isn't like TV where they solve everything in an hour (actually 45 min if you count commercials), and thus the cause of the fire is not fully known.

Since we moved into the parsonage about 2 weeks ago, we have had a steady stream of people dropping things off for us. Lois had the help of some friends, and her sister and Mom who were here for a weekend, and together they went through at least 50+ bags and boxes of clothes, towels and linens. With so much coming into the house, much of it ended up going back out. So, the generosity of the community has not only blessed us, but also the local Mission House (a thrift store in the Anglican Church here in Emo), the Fort Frances Salvation Army, and even Union Gospel in Winnipeg, which received two car loads from people going back to Winnipeg after visiting here. The result of all the clothes we have received is that the Dueck 4 kids are now pretty shick dressers, with Lorianne especially benefiting from very cool and name brand clothes given to her by many of her peers at school.

In the many things we have received, there are some that just make the house a home. The boys' room looks like it has been that way for years, but everything was given to us, and much of it we can keep! (I am thankful I won't have to make another bunk bed!) The amount of homemade quilts we have received is overwhelming. The boys love their winter ones which they use now, and are really excited about their summer ones (with cars and hockey team logos!) that we are saving till the weather gets warmer. Lorianne has received quilts as well, and we have an entire bedroom set as, complete with sheets, and a pillow sham (and the colors are great too!). With so many people asking us for specific ways to help, we were often overwhelmed and couldn't come up with anything. But when we did (like when we asked for garbage cans) they usually showed up, with the tags still on them, by the end of the day.

February 11 was a special day for us, as it was the 1 year anniversary of our arrival in Emo. We bought some sparklers and celebrated with a nice dinner topped off with an apple pie that someone had given us. It was a chance for us to talk about all God had done this year, and while we wouldn't have thought we would be back in the house we started in a year ago, we all were very easily able to share something that we were thankful for about moving to the country. Everyone was thankful for new friends, the beauty of God's outdoors which is literally just outside the door, and the pets.

Many of you have asked about the pets, and how they fared in the fire. Caleb's dog Kelly was sleeping in her doghouse just outside the front door the night of the fire, and came out when I called. The run we built for her is still here at the parsonage, so the transition hasn't been to bad. The cats ran out the cat door in the garage the night of the fire and came to town with us a few days later. (We actually just had to take them back to old house site because they were wandering too much here in town and trying to get into the neighbours' houses!) Unfortunately the hamster, guinea pigs and Caleb's crabs did not survive the fire.

The question most often asked of us, especially now that we are out and about more, is "How are the feet?" And the answer? Much better!

We are very thankful to God for how our feet have healed. No infections, the old blistered skin came off easily, and no cracks in the new skin. I was only on crutches for about a week, and as of last Saturday, I no longer had to bandage anyones feet in the morning. Lorianne and Joseph can now join their brothers in walking to school, and the wheelchairs will be going back to the hospital in the next couple of days. The kids were real troopers, crawling around when they needed to, wheeling down the halls at school, all prior to being able to hobble around. Tonight we actually went back to "the Property" as we now call 583 George Rd (it is a common local expression for a piece of land without a house on it) and took a family walk all together for the first time. God is good, the snow is covering the rubble, and it is still a beautiful spot live.

The Fundraising Tea- The generosity of the area, was as I reported in my last blog, overwhelming. The steady stream of things and money that we received at first stunned us, and truly helped soften the loss we felt. And the fact is, it just kept coming. We had received so much from so many, that the Tea that was held for us this past Sunday seemed almost unnecessary (we were told however, that it wasn't an option - "It is what we do in small towns.") Well, it was a truly great time, and another amazing display of generosity.

A writeup on the event put in the FF Times by our friend and local newspaper guy David Ogilvie came out yesterday:

Over a hundred people from across the district attended the fundraising tea for the Dueck family at the Emo Legion on Sunday afternoon. The Duecks lost their home and all of their possessions, as a result of a tragic fire, which happened in the sub-zero weather of January 27th. The tea, which was organized as a fundraiser for the family, quickly turned into a thank-you from the Duecks to the entire district. Two of the children opened the afternoon by playing some pieces on the piano. Pastor Dueck then presented a slide show which included dramatic pictures of their home before, during and after the devastating fire. He also explained to everyone how God has blessed his family with the love and generosity of so many people across the district.

The money collected at the door, to pay for the light lunch, was donated to the family by the Emo Legion. Other donations and cards were also given to the family. Pastor Conrad, as he is known to many, his wife Lois and the children would like to express their gratitude to each and every person, community group and church congregation that have given them so much and helped them cope during their time of need. At the end of the tea each person who attended was given a small memento of the occasion; a cross-stitched cross which contained a bible verse and a personal thank you from the Dueck6. For more information about the faith journey of Conrad, Lois and their kids, please check out the family blog at

We had been praying a great deal (and thanks to all the rest of you who prayed for us as well) about the event, and really felt called thank the people the best way we could - by sharing the Gospel. So after having warned them that since I am a pastor and I like to talk, I did a PowerPoint presentation of pictures of the house, the generosity of people, and the beauty of not only being saved from a fire, but being saved from sin. God is good, not just because of the fact he blessed us through the kind hearts of the people of the Rainy River district, but because of Jesus. I shared some verses, including the following. Christ sacrificed his life's blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven. Christ did this because God was so kind to us. Eph 1:7

We had a chance to meet many new people, and I pray God used what was said to plant the seeds of the truth of his love and the hope of Christ in their hearts. After we shared (Lois talked as well, and Joseph and Lorianne played a piano song each), we handed out some special crosses that were made by our dear friend Nancy Robertson from our former church Gospel Mennonite. God, in his sovereign wisdom, had her make those well in advance, and she sent them just in time for us to hand them out as thank yous, both at church and at the tea. We included with the crosses the following note:

After our talk we were presented with an envelope containing $525 collected through coin jars placed at local businesses by our friend and bus driver Ken Fisher. We then received the ice cream pail in this picture stuffed full of money that we thought was the $ going to pay for the lunch, as well as the box with cards and other loose bills and change. We received almost $3500 just that afternoon! While that is astounding, what is even more astounding that in the 19 days from the fire to the tea we received money every single day in amounts ranging from $2 to over $2000! Since the first part of our insurance money only came in last Friday, this money really helped us through the first few difficult weeks.

Lois and I have struggled with the outpouring of gifts, and being seen as the "needy" family in the district (It is pretty humbling to go to your kids school and see a food drive box labelled "For the Dueck 6" just outside the office door.). God has been teaching us to not be so independent and to just accept his grace as demonstrated by others. Going to the bank with so much money that they have to get a special okay from the manager just to let you deposit it isn't something I have done before, and it feels strange! So many of the gifts were from churches in the area, and many individuals gave us hundreds of dollars and told us to spend it on anything we wanted (since we have lived on a pretty limited income for years, that is a bit of a foreign concept!). Wise friends have told us the expenses will come, so we better just hold onto our money and just wait till we see how much it costs to build a house. So we will probably spend some, and save most. And there is a lot to save. Including some checks that came in this week, we have received gifts of money from over 100 people totalling almost $25,000.

So, pretty much all we can say to God, and to everyone else is . .Add Image .

God has provided so richly for our physical needs. Though we are often still tired, and we have a long road ahead in the areas of insurance and rebuilding, we will make it because He is faithful. Personally, I feel weak many days, and am adjusting to not always being the happy Energizer bunny I usually am. Lois and I have been communicating well, and I praise God for how he has given her energy for setting up house, dealing with many visitors, and looking after us when we were hobbling around. Thank you for your prayers, and we ask that you continue to pray that we stay focused on God's goodness and mercy show in Jesus Christ, that we would be wise as we plan for the future (both in how to have fun and do our day-to-day tasks, and in any kind of house plans when we get there), and that we would continue to make the most of this amazing opportunity to share His love with a watching and wondering community of Emo.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Just when I was wondering what I would write about . . .

For those who have been keeping up via our emails, what follows won't be a surprise. However, if you haven't heard, below is a report of God's grace in the house fire that resulted in our house in Emo burning to the ground in the early morning of Tuesday, January 27th.

This is a picture of our house this past summer.
(The pine tree on the left was cut down in October)

And this is a picture of what remains of our house right now,

taken from almost the exact same spot.

So what happened? Well here is the story.

Lois and I went to bed Monday night after a somewhat challenging day. We had hoped to have a date day, but Stephen was home sick. So it was a bit of a battle to stay positive, and we spent a lot of time praying throughout the day to have fun, work together well, etc. (those prayers were answered as we dealt with the fire later on). During the morning we were organizing the last of our storage rooms and putting up our second last shelf, and somewhat grumbling about the work we still had to do after almost 6 months in our new place (seems somewhat ironic how God helped us "simplify" our life just a few hours later!). We went to bed around 10:30, after having put a few logs on the downstairs (main floor) stove for night.

About 12:30 am we were were woken up by the smoke detector going off. I jumped out of bed, ran down the hall and opened a pocket door to the main floor (all our bedrooms are on the second story, with the rec room, guest room, and laundry area on the main floor). Thick black smoke poured through the opening and I turned and yelled at Lois to get the kids as this was a real fire. Lorianne was already in our room when I returned, and the boys got there almost right away. They headed to the balcony out our bedroom (on the North or left side of the house in the first picture). God gave me the presence of mind to phone the fire department from the phone in our bedroom, and after hanging up I rushed to the balcony to attach a rope ladder to the railing (as we told this story around town, people complimented us on having a fire escape plan. Actually, we didn't but had purchased the ladder for a kids tree fort in summer prior to moving in. Once we moved in we decided to keep in case of a fire, never thinking we would actually need it. God obviously knew we would).

As we were standing outside in our pyjamas, the kids were screaming because it was so cold - around -35c with a windchill of below -40c. Lois went into our master bedroom closet just a few steps from the balcony door, and got out 4 sleeping bags, our blanket, and a jacket. I attached the ladder, and climbed down to the snow below wearing only a t-shirt and pyjama pants. Lorianne came next, and I sent her to the van parked in front of the house. Caleb was a bit out of control, and couldn't climb down, so Lois helped him down and I caught him as he fell. Stephen went into a sleeping bag and Lois dropped him down, and then Joseph climbed down part way before jumping, and Lois came last. At this time we could already here windows breaking, and see an orange glow reflecting on the snow at the back and south side of the house.

This is the view of the house from where we would have climbed down

We made it to the van, and then I ran to open the front door for the firefighters (I didn't want them to have to break it down!). As I opened it (not a smart idea), smoke filled the basement and flames were on the stairs going up already. I ran back to the van and the kids were screaming at me because they could see flames coming out of the front of the house where I had just been. After about a minute or so in the van we realized it wasn't safe to stay so we fled. (Clearly we are still new to the country as we didn't have our keys in the van - but it was unlocked so we were half way there!)

The kids and us started running down the driveway. I ran to the shed to get a jacket that I had there, while the others had sleeping bags. Stephen made it a few steps before it was too cold, and then I helped him into the sleeping bag and he shuffled along. Caleb stopped soon as well, and Lois zipped up his bag and helped him into it. Lois had socks on the whole time, but she too got into a bag and shuffled along. Lorianne, Joseph, and I (the high strung ones as Lois says) didn't think about that (nor was it an option for me since I didn't have a bag), and ran barefoot down the driveway. Somehow either I or Lois had thrown socks out of my drawer onto the balcony, and then onto the snow below, but in the panic of the moment they never made it onto our feet.

So we made it down the driveway and onto the road, but our nearest (and only) neighbour's house was still a good 300m away. As we limped down the road the Emo Volunteer fire department showed up in their truck. I pointed them to the correct driveway, and they drove up it, leaving me wondering if they should have forgotten the fire and just helped us get out of the cold. By God's grace one of the firefighters had missed being picked up by the truck and came about a minute later down the road. I flagged him down, and he picked up me, Lois, Caleb and Stephen, and then drove a bit further down the road to where Lorianne and Joseph had already made it.

While we were only outside for at the most, 15 minutes, the impact on Lorianne's, Joseph's and my feet was severe. We developed 2nd degree frostbite burns on our feet, and from this past Tuesday till yesterday morning, spent 1 - 1.5 hours at the hospital having our feet looked at and the dressings changed. The initial blisters were very painful, and were about an inch high on Joseph's feet (pictured here), and mine. While this picture looks gross and painful, the kids have really done great with all of this, and have been great patients at the hospital.

This was taken just before the previous picture, so it looks worse than it feels

Lorianne's feet were the worst for the total surface area affected, but even she has been a trooper about it. In God's grace, I only had one foot that was really bad, and was able to hobble around on crutches for the first couple of days. As of today, I no longer need the crutches, and can even put two boots on for brief periods of time! The blisters have stayed really clean on all our feet, and currently we are cutting away the dead skin to reveal the "baby" skin underneath, which is smooth and healthy looking. Most likely it will be another week or two before Joseph and Lorianne can walk consistently on them. They have been doing a fair amount of crawling around for the past few days, though Joe can now walk on his heels.

This is their preferred mode of travel, and both of them have wheelchairs at school.

I changed the dressing at home today, since there is no more leaking. It took a lot less time, and meant we could have breakfast together.

Getting back to the night of the fire, the firefighter asked us if we had keys to the van. I said no. Fortunately the firefighters had the physical strength to move the van (even though it wasn't in neutral!) about 15 feet away from the house. We were then driven to our friend's Henry and Beth Petkau's place, just a mile east of Emo. Another God moment, was that God had woken up Henry just 10 minutes prior to us arriving. He checked with Beth if she was alright, and she was, but was fully awake when the firefighter knocked on the door a few moments later.

Needless to say they were shocked at what happened, but welcomed us in. We all went downstairs, got some blankets and warmed up. The kids had stopped crying for the most part by this time, though Joe and Lorianne were still in a lot of pain. I stayed with the family for a bit, and then got some warm clothes from Henry and then he, and his son Bob (who brought a camera at my request and snapped 80 pictures - I will post them later) and I headed back to what was left of our house. We could see the light from the flames and the smoke a mile away, and by the time we arrived at the home at around 2:00 am, only one partial wall remained standing. Basically, our entire two story house burned into about a two foot pile of rubble in 2 hours.

So what has happened since then? A great deal! After two nights with Henry and Beth we moved back into our old Parsonage right in Emo. It was fully furnished courtesy many people in Emo and our church with almost everything we needed within 24 hours (we had to purchase a mattress and box spring for ourselves, as well as a washer and dryer), and with really nice things. Some of these things are lent to us and some are given to us. A lady in our church, Carmela, co-ordinated this whole project and recorded what needs to be eventually returned.

You would never guess this house was empty a few days ago - notice the food in the cupboards!

A freezer showed up on Tuesday night already (God story again - some friends had borrowed it to their siblings, and had wanted it back for a while. They phoned Tuesday morning and their sister had "just happened" to have cleaned it out the night before).

We have no idea who most of this meat came from, but are amazed that we will eat better now than probably ever before!

We have been blessed by the incredible generosity of the people of this community and the entire Rainy River District. Churches in both Rainy River and Fort Francis (a distance of about 85 km) and almost every town in between have either written us checks or donated us food and clothes. Women's groups are making us blankets and children are even giving us their tithe money! (A young girl at church on Sunday said "Here, I want to give this to you" and handed me a twoonie). It has been overwhelming and humbling to see God's grace poured out.

A community event has been planned for us, and while we tried to say it wasn't necessary, we were told it there was no option not to have one. Many people have come forward to share stories of their struggles with house fires, and also we have heard numerous stories of how God is using this event to glorify himself. People are surprised at how we are handling this difficult situation, and we can say with joy that it is because thousands of people are praying for us. God wants to have his love spread, and for people to understand the joy of the gospel, and if we thought we had a platform from which to talk before, we have an even greater opportunity now. Our hope is always in Christ, and not in our stuff, and we truly are thankful to be alive.

So thank you for your prayers. God continues to up hold us, and we will one day, Lord willing, rebuild again at this beautiful spot. (We are also thankful for the great clothes we have received!). On Sunday I had a chance to share a few verses of Scripture with the church, and I think they truly speak to what God has done in our lives, not only in the past few days, but in the previous months and years.

And Job said, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:7-8

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 1 Timothy 6:6-8

So we rejoice in the truth that we have Jesus Christ, and that being saved from the fires of a burning house is great, but being saved from the fires of Hell is even greater. God is good, his purposes will prevail, and he will see us through. He has provided for us physically, and we continue to lean on him for the emotional and mental strength we need to make it through each day.