Missionary offers perspective on evacuation

When putting evacuation from a B.C. wildfire into perspective, ask a missionary who spent many year of his life in Ethiopia, a country known for its droughts and famines.

George Middleton, 91, was one of about 60 people that were evacuated from the Williams Lake Seniors Village recently and placed in Neyoh, a University of Northern B.C residence. The Carrier name appropriately translates to "our home."

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Middleton, who always looks on the bright side of life, had an interesting observation to make about the wildfires near Williams Lake.

"Well, if we did get burned up at least it would save on the cost of cremation," Middleton laughed. "I was very happy when we were evacuated."

Middleton thought the ride to Prince George on the Northern Health Connections bus was wonderful. He has a bad hip and was worried he'd be uncomfortable during the trip but that wasn't the case, he said.

Middleton, who has written a book called Miracles Do Happen, feels being evacuated from his assisted living home in Williams Lake will be one of many memorable moments of his life.

Middleton and his wife, Dorothea, went to Ethiopia in 1951 and were there for many years, he said.

Middleton became a personal friend with Emperor Haile Selassie and when he died in 1975 the Middletons were evacuated from Ethiopia.

Through all the trials and tribulations, Middleton had his dear wife by his side.

"Dorothea means gift of God and she was," Middleton smiled. "We were only married 68 years and I miss her."

She died in 2013.

On the grand scheme of things, the evacuation isn't much more than a bump on the road of Middleton's life and he gave a perfect example of how his perspective might differ from others.

Middleton recalls once seeking shelter in an Ethopian cave with a narrow entrance.

"I came face to face with a leopard," Middleton said. "Leopards are a very fierce animal and instead of attacking, he looked at me and smiled and jumped right over top of me and I put that in my book as a miracle because leopards love to kill. But my kids said 'dad, that wasn't any miracle, that's the first time in history that a missionary was saved by bad breath.'"

Middleton has founded three missions throughout his life, including his current one in Williams Lake called International Coordinated Christian Ministries (ICCM) which currently works in 12 countries caring for more than 1,000 people in need each day, he said.

Middleton reflects on the famine in Ethiopia when several million people starved to death in 1974.

"One of the things I am very glad that I did was when I returned to Canada I got 100 young Canadians, including university students and seminary students to give a one-year commitment of their lives to go to Ethiopia and help during the famine," Middleton said.

He was able to recruit 100 Ethiopian students to do the same and each helped the other in their efforts and he's very proud of that.

Middleton thought it important to acknowledge the efforts of everyone during the evacuation process from the Senior Village staff who had to manage those with physical and mental health challenges to those transporting the residents to Prince George and those currently caring for them at the Neyoh residence at UNBC.

"We have been treated unbelievably well," Middleton said.

"The people of Prince George have turned this evacuation stay into a five star hotel. Everyone has been so kind and good and I want everyone to know the great job that they have done to make each of us evacuees feel comfortable. Their efforts have been tremendous and I would like the world to know that."

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