What started out as the initiative of a British Columbia church turned into a project with the whole community.
A few years ago, a group of friends atHeartland Christian Reformed Church in Chilliwack, B.C., noticed that housing developments were rapidly taking over the forested foothills near the church. They formed the Chilliwack Park Society and came up with a plan to save some of the mature forest. The society asked the City of Chilliwack to set aside some of the land for a park and offered to build a network of trails to make it more accessible to the public. The city agreed to preserve 130 acres for that purpose.
The society drew support from a myriad of sources: the church, local government agencies, schools, the local First Nations community, businesses, and nonprofit groups. Diaconal Ministries Canada, a partner of the Christian Reformed Church, gave them a grant to engage the community.
Once the administrative heavy lifting was done, the society began the physical aspect of building a trail. Volunteers came from all over to pitch in. “It all happened so fast,” said Jeff Janssen, pastor of Heartland CRC. “We simply rolled up our sleeves and got to it. Church members of all ages helped clear the trail. Even 5-year-olds came with their little trowels.”
Marc Geidanus, one of the original society members from the church, said, “Last year Heartland provided the energy, enthusiasm, and the bulk of the labor force for the initial trail work. The uptake from the community proved incredible and the various projects now move forward under their own momentum. Heartland still hosts events and works in the background, but this has become a broad community initiative.”
The Chilliwack Community Forest opened in May 2016. The trail takes a twisting, turning, roller coaster route past towering Western Red Cedars, masses of oversized Sword ferns and ancient tree stumps upholstered with moss. The beauty refreshes the soul.
Janssen reflected on how the project fits in with the vision and mission of Heartland CRC. “Challenges come with being planted in a suburban environment where lives are busy and full,” he said. “Heartland is a small church with limited resources. Rather than telling people about the gospel in traditional ways, we’ve found it more effective to live the gospel alongside them. Trail building helps do that. We discover that we care about the same things and can to point to our God who loves this world and its people.”