Friday, 15 November 2019

Bushfire Chaplaincy Update - Fri 15 Nov 2019

Australians are bracing for more fires and extreme temperatures after a week of deadly bushfires.

The Assembly’s National Disaster Recovery Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson says it’s been a very, very difficult time for a lot of people.

“Over 300 houses now destroyed and a lot of other outbuildings and a lot of property and stock loss as well as that."

“A lot of people are out of their homes. There've been quite a few evacuation centres opened - up to 15 or 16 - over the week the total number has been up to 20.”

The death toll from the fires rose to four after the discovery of a body in burnt out bushland near Kempsey on the NSW Mid North Coast on Wednesday.

In NSW, the Uniting Church oversees disaster recovery chaplaincy in evacuation and recovery centres and works with 20 other denominations and faith groups to do that.

“We oversee the work,” says Stephen.

“Currently we've had 35 chaplains engaged since Thursday last week.”

“They have logged up already 800 chaplaincy hours, and it's been an extraordinary effort for them.

“They continue to be available to people in those centres and supporting both evacuees and also agency staff in those places.

“They're reporting that people are doing pretty well, but people are also getting very tired. There have been some long, long days for them.”

In Queensland, the Uniting Church has been engaging with the Department of Communities that oversees disaster welfare.

“The Church has been engaged in a number of recovery centres, particularly at Yeppoon and Noosaville, through the Lifeline Community Recovery people,” says Stephen.

“They're in there doing a fantastic job.”

There are also fires also burning in Western Australia, and extreme heatwave conditions are forecast over the next few days.

Stephen says preparing for heatwave conditions is vital.

“Particularly with a heat wave, if you are able to within your own church start to get together a list of vulnerable people, particularly elderly and others that might need care, people who do not have air conditioning, and to ensure that you're in touch with them throughout and give them a cool place to be during heatwave conditions.

“Also during this time when people are getting tired and frazzled and they're concerned about people that may be out of sight, certainly not out of mind, to take good care of each other,” says Stephen.

“Please keep all of those affected in your prayers, and we will keep the Church up to date as these things progress.”

Uniting Church Minister Rev. Alimoni Taumoepeau was one of three disaster recovery chaplains deployed to the NSW Far North Coast town of Lismore, where evacuees sought shelter from fires in the Clarence and Richmond valleys.

Moni and his fellow chaplains spent a lot of time with evacuees at the Lismore Showground, where many people camped out with their animals.

“The trauma is really deep,” says Moni.

“There’s so much uncertainty. They don’t know when they’ll be allowed back to their homes, or even if they’ve got a home to go back to.”

“People appreciate having someone to talk to, and hear their stories. After a while they start to connect.”

“They really need to be open in a safe way at such a vulnerable time.”

Moni arrived in Lismore on Tuesday – the day of catastrophic fire danger conditions.

More people arrived at evacuation centres the following day, but by Thursday cooler conditions allowed many to go back to whatever awaited them.

“There were three people we spoke to who lost their homes,” says Moni.

“It is just the most disheartening thing. You cry with them, but at the same time you marvel at their resilience, because you know they’re going back to face what’s ahead of them.”

Amid the pain, Moni said it was wonderful to see the whole community come together to support the evacuees.

“Locals turned up with prepared meals, coffee cart owners gave away free coffees, people even brought feed for people’s animals and livestock.”

“A lady with a ukulele even came down and was telling stories to the kids.”

“People really let the evacuees know they were not alone and they were cared for.”

 “This work is so special to be a part of,” says Moni who became a disaster chaplain in 2014.


For those seeking to support Uniting Church disaster recovery work, the National Disaster Relief Fund is there to help disaster-hit communities for the long term, for those who want to access or donate.

The NSW/ACT and Queensland Synods have also announced Moderators appeals for fire-affected communities.

The NSW/ACT Synod has declared 1 December, the first day of Advent, as a day of prayer for first responders to the bushfires.

NSW/ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford has written a prayer for all involved.

Queensland Moderator Rev. David Baker also offered a reflection from the book of Isaiah.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” (Isaiah 41:10).

"Despite events that are demoralising, the Lord offers strength, particularly in these tough times," said Rev. Baker.


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