The Baptist pastors who are out working in the Bushfire affected regions are amazing people. Not only did they adjust their whole lives to take on assisting the local communities impacted by the bushfires, they have now had to swing back around to adjust their whole lives to keeping their own local congregations connected and inspired during the COVID-19 crisis. Amazing. Just when things were starting to show signs of life again the communities in these regions have taken another economic and social hit. Because of this, our role in staying involved and remaining connected into the future is even more critical.
Right from the moment the fires were threatening Corryong, Pastor Graeme van Brummelen was on the ground helping. He and David Hodgens (Wodonga Baptist Church) played a significant role in running the evacuation centre. Immediately after the fires had cleared, Graeme was out gathering information from locals on what the immediate needs were. Recognising the need that many had for some basic items, combined with the need the local shops had for business, getting a local voucher system up and running was a great start and this has been continuing through to this time.
Just before the COVID-19 lockdowns occurred, I took Chris Piper (our Bushfire Recovery Advisor) for a visit (as we also did to Gippsland, reported previously) and we spent a couple of days with Graeme. The attached video highlights some of the activity from that trip but also talks about the long-term needs that are part of the recovery process.
We were privileged to visit some of those who had been affected – some didn’t mind being photographed or named, but for most the pain was still too raw to even ask. However, what was abundantly clear was how much Graeme was being appreciated in the community. His ability to connect as a pastor but also as a local (Graeme himself lost property and livestock as a result of the fires) has allowed people to feel safe talking to him about their pain and loss, but also about various options on how to take any next steps toward recovery.
We visited two couples who had each lost two houses. One of these couples had subsequently spent a couple of months living in a tent inside a shed that had been saved. Both couples (as well as others we met) spoke about how much they had appreciated engaging with Graeme and how important it was to have someone to talk to during this time. It was amazing to me how long we were at each place. People obviously just wanted to be able to talk to those they knew would care. Pictured here is one couple with Graeme as he hands them a Voucher Package.
All this activity has been made possible by the generosity of the Baptist Family in Victoria. In addition to the Voucher Packages, Graeme has been talking with local farmers about their current needs and the overwhelming response has been for assistance in buying seed (and some fodder) at this critical seasonal moment. The fires not only burnt off all the grass but then the heavy rains that followed washed away a lot of the top soil (see the video). In this district, these funds have played a vital role in helping farmers with the next season in their farming calendar, without which would have undoubtedly led to ongoing losses as a result of the fires. There are of course numerous Scriptural references to planting seed and Graeme himself feels that this is significant at this time. Many of those who have received this gift share with him about what it has meant to receive it, but also many share about his personal support is playing such a significant role during this time.
Once again, Baptist Family, thanks for your support. Wherever Graeme gets a chance to talk he makes it clear that it is you who have made this support possible. Please continue to pray for Graeme and the other pastors in Gippsland (Michael Carlisle, Geoff Pegler, as well as all those working hard with them) who are not only working at continuing this great work, but also working at dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks again for all your support. God bless.
Peace and Hope in these times,
BUV Partnership Development Pastor