Banff NP Migration Bridge

317: An Ohio Church Plant and an Animal Migration Bridge in Alberta

Migration bridge through bus windshieldRecently, a friend of mine left my church’s staff to be part of a start-up church in Dayton, Ohio—a Bible Belt city where 86% of people surveyed said church wasn’t relative to their lives. John and his co-workers named it Bridge Church. John told me that they’re “building bridges from old religion to new relationship, from old life to new life. Spiritual bridges, relational bridges and emotional bridges.”

This Instagram exchange with John flashed back to me after my experience on the Trans Canadian Highway.

During a shuttle ride through Banff National Park on the famous highway, my bus driver pointed out the fencing along the side of the highway. It looked about two meters high, and he said it was buried one meter below the surface to prevent burrowing. Then, he pointed out what he called underpasses and overpasses that were built to protect wildlife migration. The fences funneled mammals from rabbits to grizzlies through these protected crossings.

According to CBC News, the six overpasses and 38 underpasses have reduced animal collisions on the park’s section of the interstate by 80%.1 Considering that Banff National Park has 3.5 million visitors and 4.5 million pass-through drivers & passengers per year, that’s an impressive feat.2

Grizzly at UnderpassCanada isn’t alone in this effort. Several other countries, including the United States, have started building these wildlife crossings to reduce the negative impact of human development on other species. (You can see various samples of these bridges here, including one for crabs.) The Canadian ones are covered in trees and slightly concave so that headlights don’t spook nocturnal animals.

While some might find this expensive infrastructure as frivolous, it proves to be life-giving to the tens of thousands of beautiful creatures who’ve been using them.

Aerial View of Banff Wildlife CrossingsJust like animals who migrate to find food, safety, and places to spend the winter, we humans are all on a constant journey to find love and acceptance, purpose and fulfillment. Destiny. On top of all the natural hazards inherent in our existence, we have extra-dangerous stretches to traverse. There are sections of our journey that present dangers and temptations, detours and roadblocks.

Candidly, the church through history has often made those instinctive journeys more dangerous. We’ve crushed lives and spooked others from progress. Even as we have attempted to build in-roads into secular culture, we have created more hurdles for someone to find their destiny on the other side of their church experience.

That’s why now, people like John are needing to build bridges over religion, over aversion, over assumptions.

Like a wildlife crossing, these efforts aren’t easy or cheap. While some might discount the worth of the people who are protected or rescued, folks like John see the eternal value of each soul reached. While some might consider new churches as frivolous and entitled, these bridge churches are bringing life to the disenfranchised and uninitiated.

Just as each country designs their wildlife crossings in different ways—the best they know how for their respective contexts—pastors and missionaries around the globe are adapting their bridges the best they can to their respective cultures and subcultures.

I’m not moving to Dayton. You probably aren’t, either. But we can all build bridges. We all can help others on their journeys to Jesus and then with him. We can make a dangerous world just a tiny bit safer for others. That viaduct might look odd or out of place. It might not make sense to skeptics or bystanders.

For the ones who find new life because of those bridges, though, those crossings will look like sovereign intervention in life-saving moments. Something tells me that’s reward enough for their construction.

First two photos taken on my iPhone. Other photos linked to source.

1Banff Bears Use Trans-Canada Wildlife Crossings to Find Mates
Emily Chung, CBC News, February 18, 2014.

2The Alberta Story: Wildlife Crossing in Banff
Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler, August 23, 2013.

Also referenced:
6 of the World’s Most Ingenious Wildlife Overpasses

Emily Hanssen Arent, Matador Network, July 20, 2012.

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