Church community failed Marlene Bird

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Marlene Darlene Bird, 47.

Sharing swigs from a liquor bottle with a close friend on a Friday night, Marlene Darlene Bird, 47, wandered into a downtown store to warm up.

When Bird’s friend asked storeowner Margie Stark to pray for her, Bird excused herself from the conversation.

“I don’t need that,” Stark recalls Bird telling her at the time, dismissively throwing her hands up.

After giving Bird and her friends some jackets for the cold night of May 30, which dipped to about 10 C, Stark sent them on their way.

During a visit to Prince Albert last weekend, Bird’s aunt Lorna Thiessen retraced Bird’s footsteps over the weekend of May 30 to gain an understanding of what happened to her.

Less than two days after Bird’s last visit to Stark’s store, emergency personnel found her critically injured outside of the Margo Fournier Centre, at about 10:20 a.m. on Sunday, June 1.

“Marlene was victimized and her behaviour didn’t cause this to occur,” city police chief Troy Cooper said, clarifying that although it was dangerous being alone in the area overnight, she was in no way an instigator in the attack on her.  

With medical tubes stuck down Bird’s throat during her lengthy recovery at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, she remains unable to share her own story.

After leaving Stark’s small clothing shop at about 9:30 p.m. on Friday, May 30, Bird continued a couple buildings south up Central Avenue to the Prince Albert Full Gospel Outreach Centre.

Here, her attitude toward prayer is said to have changed and she began asking for prayers and help -- assistance that Thiessen said the local church community has not provided enough of in recent years.

Although Bird grew up a Christian, she gave up on her faith in the years following her residential school experience -- a faith she’s only recently begun to restore.

“She didn’t get the spiritual help she needed,” Thiessen said. “The support systems were not in place and she fell back into the surroundings that were around her.”

Although the local church community offers sporadic help to the city’s homeless community, the majority of local Christians have yet to follow the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus Christ, Thiessen concluded.

“I think anybody who calls themselves a ‘born again Christian’ needs to understand that (the homeless) need a support system in place,” Thiessen said.

“If you don’t get that close support system and that fellowship in God, the things in life bombard them and they just go under -- That’s my view.”

The local church community failed to offer the support system Bird needed following the trauma she faced in the residential school system, Thiessen said.

“If you’ve got money and you’re white and you’ve got a good profession and you’re on that socioeconomic status level, everybody likes you,” Thiessen said.

“If you’re on that other socioeconomic level and you’re the wrong colour … and you’ve got nothing to offer financially or skill-wise -- then you’re at the bottom of the ladder.”

The “chicken Christians” who attend church services and do nothing to help the city’s downtrodden “lack compassion that Jesus had,” Thiessen said.

The support systems were not in place and she fell back into the surroundings that were around her. Lorna Thiessen

Prince Albert Full Gospel Outreach Centre pastor Vern Temple said that Bird was a regular churchgoer and appeared on the mend in recent years.

“We can’t force our faith on anyone, right? That’s just not how it works, so we were just trying to help her on her road back to God and serving God and getting out of this rut that she was in,” he said.

Although many people attend the Full Gospel Outreach Centre for its meal program, which Temple said is fine, Bird has appeared increasingly vested in the Christian teachings.

“She was attending more and more,” Temple said. “I believe that there were positive changes going on in her life.”

The pastor said that Bird has been drinking less and even seemed to enjoy church services more.

As for churches not doing enough to help the downtrodden, Temple admits that they don’t do enough as a church body -- No one does.

“We can never do enough,” he said. “Look at the world -- It’s just overwhelming … and we can only do so much to help them.”

“I think it’s a miracle that she’s still alive,” he said. “It’s an absolute miracle that she’s still living, and that would show me … that God has a plan for her life.”

Bird remains heavily sedated at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton and continues to go under the knife in a series of surgeries, Thiessen said.

She’s had both legs amputated and has received skin grafting and will undergo facial reconstructive surgery.

Although unable to talk at this point in her recovery, she’s able to open one eye and raise her hand whenever her family is in the room.

Two marches will be held in Bird’s honour this week. The first march will take place at 12 p.m. in La Ronge on Wednesday. The second march will take place at 9 a.m. in Prince Albert on Thursday, beginning at city hall and concluding by noon at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Gymnasium.

Various family members will speak at these events, including Bird’s mother Jane Toles. 

Click HERE for a Friday, June 13 story with police chief Troy Cooper.

Click HERE for a story about Bird's life and residential school experience.

Click HERE for a story about a June 6 walk in Bird's honour and against violence.

Organizations: University of Alberta Hospital, Prince Albert Full Gospel Outreach Centre, Margo Fournier Centre

Geographic location: Prince Albert, Edmonton, Central Avenue La Ronge

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Recent comments

  • bob
    June 17, 2014 - 12:58

    Getting tired of always the white man having to help everyone. Isn't that the chief and the families responsibility to help first. We shouldnt have to sit back aand have handouts given to us . Should we.

    • Jax
      June 19, 2014 - 11:25

      The 'white man' is what caused this problem in the first place. If you know anything about residential schools you would understand how people who were subjected to them end up like this. Try opening up a history book and educating yourself before commenting on things. People who experience trauma often end up in less than ideal situations because they lack adequate support systems/therapy/help.

  • Here we go again
    June 17, 2014 - 11:27

    Here we go again - talking about the white vs colors. Ms. Thiessen if you are such a Spiritual person as you claim why are you being so judgmental - "if you were white"!!!! Stop throwing stones yourself and maybe help your family. What the hell does color have to do with it - we all make our own choices. My Creator did not show me how to judge between others.

  • where was Lorna
    June 17, 2014 - 10:51

    This is a terrible thing but Id like to know where was Lorna Thiessen? She wants to throw rocks--call people down for not helping--well help starts at home--i've seen stories where they say even the family couldnt help--maybe they weren't doing enough??? I mean they dont mind saying everyone else wasnt doing enough--maybe she should look into the mirror?? Im frankly tired of hearing how it's everyones fault--first they said they thought people were cowards for not reporting this cause someone MUST have seen this-now its the local church communities fault because they dont do enough----well some people dont want help--is it everyone elses fault that she was attacked--no--it certainly wasnt her fault but dont attack people that couldnt do anything about it either--how would more church support do anything to change the course of events that day??? I think Lorna's angry and I don't blame her but to cast stones at agencies that are only there to help and to start calling people down for something they have no control over is rediculous and does nothing to help her cause--look in the mirror Lorna-where were you????

  • J Steele
    June 17, 2014 - 08:19

    It is a sad thing that Ms. Bird experienced, and her aunt Lorna Thiessen claims that the church failed her. I am left wondering "where was her family?" Who had the first obligation to help??