Home Special Edition Disaster Relief Disaster Relief in the Riverina 

Disaster Relief in the Riverina 

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In 2019, the Snowy Mountains area was hit with bushfires that destroyed homes, buildings and stock and caused mass evacuations. Steve Maynard got involved in community efforts to support and help people who were struggling – particularly finding accommodation for those who had lost their homes, and providing food for RFS firefighters out on the field. He saw firsthand the trauma, grief and loss being experienced. Then not long after, the pandemic hit. 

“I found myself connecting with a number of people up there and just trying to provide limited counselling and some care and support,” Steve says. And after touring the area and seeing the impact firsthand, the Baptist Association offered Steve a part-time role as Community Chaplain in the Riverina region (funded by our Disaster Relief fund), giving him the opportunity to continue engaging with people that he had already connected with, while adding more to the list.

Steve says the aid started off being material-focused – with shipping containers being delivered to properties where houses had been lost, items being donated (everything from ladders and wheelbarrows to steel cap work boots and groceries), and plastic fold-out tables/chairs being provided for community group functions. But slowly Steve’s help has morphed into the “personal”; sitting and hearing stories and providing counselling. 

“The fires have caused ongoing trauma for people,” Steve says. “I had lunch recently with two firefighters and it was only three nights before that they had been called out to a house fire. One of them was expressing how he felt when he came around the corner in the firetruck and saw the house on fire and had an immediate flashback to his own loss as the feelings that he had experienced all came flooding back. The tears poured as he was reliving that experience.”

Covid-19 also caused a lot of grief. “The ongoing pandemic has brought extra hopelessness, stress, depression, paranoia, anger, fear, isolation, financial pressures, uncertainty and anxiety,” Steve explains. “Marriages have broken down, and there’s the polarization of people over government mandates that have caused relational issues amongst families.”

But amongst the hard things, Steve says there is good. “A lot of feedback I’ve got has been reminding me that caring for others is not rocket science – it can be as simple as sending a text to check in with someone or offer a word of encouragement…just that little act of love and show of support can make a huge difference in people’s lives. It’s also been a great joy to see people who were just angry and broken starting to mend and grow, to be part of a disabled woman getting baptized, and to see several people come to faith through their dark nights and have a hope that they didn’t have before.”

Steve was also able to connect two of our Baptist churches back in December. When Castle Hill Baptist Church reached out to the Association with a desire to offer some financial support to a rural church, Steve connected them with the pastor in Deniliquin who explained the church’s dream to employ a part-time outreach worker. “The pastor there was thrilled to be considered and supported! For a very rural church to be connected with and supported by a major Sydney church – we should see more of that,” Steve says. “I believe that that’s something that could happen and should happen as we link arms and share in the ministry opportunities that are out there.”

P R A Y / / 

  • Steve says: “I have really noticed the polarization of people over the government’s pandemic mandates. It has caused a lot of relational issues amongst churches, placing a huge stress upon church leaders and pastors. Pray for me as I try to get alongside pastors and church leaders and encourage them. Pray that God would bring unity back into those fractured relationships and use all of the Christians in the Riverina to reach those in the community.”
  • Sadly, Steve and the community have seen a number of suicides. Pray for spiritual breakthrough.
  • Pray for the huge ongoing financial pressures – especially upon small churches. Pray that God would provide all that they need.
  • Pray that Steve would remember the joys, connections and mutual support and that they wouldn’t get lost in the overwhelming desperation and brokenness that’s out there. Praise God that there’s often a lot of distance in between places which gives him alone time in the car to reflect and gather his thoughts and get things back into equilibrium again.

T I P S / / 

Between natural disasters, global pandemics and overseas wars, it is a particularly hard time to be in ministry! Here are Steve’s tips for dealing with people in such a broken world:

  1. Set appropriate boundaries for yourself. If we’re showing a willingness to listen and engage with people and support and encourage them, we need to have those appropriate boundaries in place.
  2. Make sure you’re setting aside time each day with the Lord (and his people) to be strengthened, encouraged, and enriched in your own walk and your own understanding of the Word – so that you can then go out into the world and use that to support and help others!
  3. Have someone you can talk through stuff with; a mentor, advisor, spiritual director or just a good friend or spouse who is willing to listen.

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