International Falls, Minnesota, has been experiencing the worst flooding in its history, and crews of missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are spending hours helping in the disaster area.
Over the past four weeks, missionaries from the Canada Winnipeg Mission have been driving as much as six hours from areas in Winnipeg, areas in rural Manitoba, areas in Ontario, and areas in northern Minnesota to International Falls, which is in the southern part of the mission and just over the U.S.-Canada border. They stay with local Church members and spend 12-14 hour days sandbagging around homes and businesses.
“They are trying to shore up everything they can in and around the main part of the town,” said Canada Winnipeg Mission President Brent D. Carr, who leads the mission with his wife, Sister Lorri M. Carr.
“People in the community have responded in gratitude — they are so thankful. They have been offering the missionaries food and different things. It’s been remarkable to see the impact the missionaries are making,” he said.
Rainy Lake surpassed the 1950 record on June 3 as the waters continue to rise, reported WDIO, a local TV station.
The station spoke to one of the missionaries, Elder Seidel, on the scene: “It’s hard to see them going through this, so it’s nice to be able to give them a little bit of hope,” Elder Seidel said. “I just was completely shocked. I was told that things were going pretty south, but this is beyond what I thought was happening.”
Sister Carr said the missionaries are great ambassadors for the Church: “Whenever they are questioned, they always say their purpose is to bring souls to Christ, and one of the things they do is serve.”
In fact, full-time elders will now be assigned to International Falls for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“They’ve been busy, and we hope as a follow-up having elders there full-time, they can teach more friends about the gospel. It’s been an awesome thing for the missionaries to be out serving and to be able to teach people about Christ,” Sister Carr said.
President Carr said the missionaries keep in contact with him about how the sandbagging and service is going.
“I’ve had several tell me that they feel like this is the most impactful they’ve been on their mission in terms of changing people, helping people, giving them hope because of what they’ve been able to do,” he said.
He said the hard work has been a boost to some of the missionaries’ mental health as well. “They are tired, they are physically exhausted at the end of the day, but they have really appreciated the opportunity. When they come off their shifts, they contact me and say they would be happy to go again. Some of them have been two or three times.”
Making connections through JustServe
Community service is built into each mission, explained President Carr, and connections that the missionaries already made in the broader area through JustServe led to the opportunity to help with the flooding.
JustServe is a website and app which connects nonprofit organizations and community groups with volunteers. It builds bridges and friendships in the community and adds to the missionary’s sense of accomplishment, President Carr said.
These missionaries have an ongoing project where they serve regularly at Harvest Manitoba, which is a food bank in Winnipeg. They volunteer in the call center and in the warehouse, where they sort food and get food baskets ready for people and distribution throughout all of Manitoba.
Harvest Manitoba just recognized the elders and sisters as their “Volunteers of the Month.” Snookie Vallejo-Tumlos, Harvest’s volunteer services floor supervisor, said the missionaries have the energy and mindset needed for serving others.
“The missionaries are very much a great help to us as they are very open minded, soft spoken and easy to work with,” said Vallejo-Tumlos. “Other volunteers are comfortable working with them as they are friendly and approachable. … They are here to make the day worthwhile by working hard and work with a positive attitude that they accomplished something good each day.”
President Carr said the surrounding towns and areas heard about this service and have also been impacted by the work the missionaries are doing at the food bank.
“That awareness of JustServe is what took this to the level of, ‘Hey if missionaries do these kinds of things, maybe they can help us.’ That’s where the community [in International Falls] reached out to the Church,” said President Carr.
President Carr said people in the area are astonished that missionaries are doing all of it — serving at the food bank, and sandbagging for hours — without being paid. They want to know why. “And that’s opening doors to teach about the gospel,” he said.