*Excerpts of this story come from a summary written by Colin Earnshaw, a member of Wagga Wagga Baptist Church and a volunteer assisting churches with their bushfire responses. Thanks to Colin for his work and insight.
During the late 2019/early 2020 bushfires, parts of the Riverina region in south-western NSW were greatly affected. In Batlow alone, a number of homes were lost – and one person passed away. There were over 400 properties registered with Service NSW for clean up in the Snowy Valley. Across the region, hundreds of homes and sheds were destroyed along with thousands of kilometres of fencing, crops, orchids, stock, and wildlife. For some farmers, the loss of animal stock was profound, with some stampeding into a gully and others having to be shot so they wouldn’t burn in the fires.
The losses are deep and will be felt for a long time.
But the Baptist Churches in the Riverina responded beautifully. Tumut Baptist Church became the relief and volunteer feeding point in that town. Gundagai Baptist Church was heavily involved in the running of Gundagai Centre, which provided thousands of meals and “snack packs” to the Tarcutta RFS staging post, as well as family care packs to the Tumbarumba community. Wagga Wagga Baptist collected food and goods for affected people and delivered it to areas where it was distributed. And both Wagga Wagga & Gundagai Baptist were involved in feeding the Blaze Aid volunteers stationed at Adelong.
The churches continue to be involved in bushfire recovery. Gundagai Baptist has distributed gift vouchers and other aid (including a subsidy for children from fire-affected families, at the Batlow Preschool), supporting local businesses and bushfire-affected individuals and families. Wagga Wagga Baptist has also distributed gift vouchers in an area running from Tarcutta right down to the Victorian border.
Colin Earnshaw, a member of Wagga Wagga Baptist and a volunteer assisting churches with their bushfire responses, reports: “Most of our ‘aid’ is simply giving out vouchers to local businesses. Steve Forbes-Taber has been our main coordinator. He has travelled around the area on his motorbike, identifying affected people and letting them share their stories (often very important) while giving out gift vouchers. The cash value is virtually insignificant in light of the losses, but it is saying someone cares – and it may meet an immediate need. For example, Steve visited a farm and, whilst talking to him, the farmer saw a bit of a building flapping in the wind and said ‘I had better nail that down’, but then realized he no longer had a hammer as it had been burnt. A voucher to the local hardware shop helped address that. It also tells people that the church isn’t indifferent to their needs and situation, and provides a first contact for future opportunities with the Gospel.”
Kelly Crawford, the Association’s ‘Bushfire Relief and Recovery Coordinator’, says: “Thanks to everyone who has donated to the bushfire fund and who has been praying for churches in bushfire affected areas. The assistance that churches provide comes with the offer of a listening ear, prayer, and a relationship of sharing the love of Jesus through word and deed.”