As Australia faces one of its worst bushfire seasons in decades, crisis-trained chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) have been ministering to dozens of hurting hearts, offering a listening ear and sharing a message of hope to distraught residents. While chaplains have been serving in various parts of the continent since September, they are currently ministering in Bairnsdale, Victoria, and Batemans Bay, New South Wales—marking the first time the team has run a simultaneous multi-site deployment in Australia.
“We’re at a really hard phase,” Beveridge said. “But chaplains are here to help people move from one place to another, helping them to think about the big possibilities, the eternal possibilities—that the reality of God is present in every situation of life.”
Prayer is a vital part of what the RRT offers, bringing God into any and every situation.
Heavy rains have helped firefighters put out many of the flames, although some fire patches remain. Some homeowners have had to evacuate multiple times, while others have lost their homes and been hit with fire again weeks later. “The rain revives the bush and cleanses the air full of smoke,” Beveridge said. “It’s a beautiful reminder God’s incredible creation is healing and life is coming back to situations.”
Sarah* and her husband have been fighting the fires in Batemans Bay, New South Wales, since last spring. They lost their three-bedroom cottage, boat, trailer and numerous animals to the flames. When RRT chaplains visited Sarah, she was initially apprehensive to open up—but the more chaplains listened, the more Sarah shared about her pain and suffering. She and her husband have been working tirelessly to rebuild what they’ve lost, and helping their neighbours do the same. Sarah was brought to tears as she hugged one of the chaplains, receiving the peace and comfort of Jesus Christ through the loving action. “The Lord touched her that moment,” a chaplain recalled. “She accepted our offer of prayer and she held onto me like she was holding onto dear life. And we know that it was the beginning of a continual growth towards Jesus Christ.” (*Name changed for privacy.)
While most people are over the initial shock of the fire, Beveridge said, “We haven’t even scratched the surface of the amount of need. … [Residents are] tidying and removing rubbish.” With more than 2,800 homes destroyed in the fires, orange-shirted Samaritan’s Purse volunteers have been helping these communities recover. Along the way, homeowners have been requesting visits from RRT chaplains, which is “an Australian first,” Beveridge said.
“What’s made this situation stand out so much is the scale of disaster,” Beveridge continued. At least 33 people have lost their lives to the bushfire crisis, and dozens are still reported as missing. With such a high magnitude of tragedy, RRT chaplains from the U.K. and Canada have traveled to Australia to help the existing team offer a ministry of presence to homeowners.
“We’ve moved away from farming areas and are now working along coastal areas where there’s a higher number of people in little towns,” explained Stewart Beveridge, RRT manager of Australia/New Zealand (not pictured). “When teams go there, we’ve seen total loss. [But the] majority have some damage to homes—mostly outbuildings, like sheds, carports, garages and damages to property.”
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