People going without running water.
Some still living in tents or caravans.
Many who lost their homes are aged above 60 – they’d established their houses and were enjoying what they’ve worked hard for all their life, only to have it all taken it away.
These are just some of the stories to come out of the South Coast of NSW after bushfires rampaged the area. With Covid-19, it’s easy to forget the devastation that happened in late 2019/early 2020. But, seeing how tough people are doing it, the Association recognised a need for a trained and skilled Christian counselor in the far South Coast area. It was decided that Bruce Chan, who had previously worked in counselling at BaptistCare, was a good fit. Since mid-April, some of the generous donations we received from the Baptist Association’s Disaster Relief & Recovery Campaign fund have been used to pay for Bruce to work in Batemans Bay, Mogo, and surrounding areas.
Regarding the types of issues existing, Bruce shares: “There’s the grief, anxiety and trauma of the fires, having to be evacuated, seeing smoke and devastation all around, and then, right in that initial rebuilding phase, everyone going into isolation once COVID-19 hit. What was already a difficult time was exacerbated and magnified. People weren’t able to get the services that they needed, travel to see family, or meet with their communities. For some, it’s caused a deep sense of anger. And for a lot of the ‘helpers’ in the community, they haven’t been looking after themselves as they look after others, and so are feeling burnt out.”
So Bruce has been providing support and relief to many of these people. Thanks to donations from individuals, churches, BaptistCare NSW & ACT and BFS, his services are completely free. By taking away that financial pressure, people can afford a service that is beneficial for them, and are able to use their finances for rebuilding. Bruce is making significant inroads in the community – so much so that they themselves are now paying him for an extra day per week. “Initially I was getting funded for two days of work every fortnight by the Baptist Association’s bushfire relief fund,” Bruce explains. “But while I’ve been down there, the word has spread, and the Rotary Club, who have their own funding and finances, have asked me to come on board for another day so that more people can get help.”
BaptistCare NSW & ACT partnered in the project to get it off the ground, including help with oversight and the use of a car so that Bruce could visit clients who could not get to him.
Even when other services pulled out and went online because of Covid, Bruce continued his work. “I first started going down during Sydney’s period of isolation. Thankfully, the work I am engaged in is deemed as necessary, and I had proof of my employment,” Bruce says. “In terms of meeting with people, I was able to use the Batemans Bay Baptist church office, as their Lead Pastor (Pastor Rob) worked from home, and was also able to meet people in their own homes, often on their verandah outside, as most of them are in that older and more at-risk category. I’ve also done phone calls and the odd Zoom appointment – whatever people are most comfortable with.”
The partnership with Batemans Bay Baptist has been beneficial in more ways than one. “The people in the community know that I’m providing these services through Batemans Bay Baptist Church, so they know that I’m a christian,” Bruce says. “The odd person says, ‘Oh, you’re not going to want to pray or open the bible with me, are you?’ And I say, ‘not unless you want me to – but if you do want to know more about the gospel, I would recommend you talk to Pastor Rob’. So I am able to connect them into the existing church – which will always be there, whilst I am only temporary. It’s been great to not only meet people’s needs, but to help the local church build connections with the unreached population down there.”
We have also heard that a local recipient of a care package from Batemans Bay Baptist has petitioned council for accommodation and use of a 4-wheel-drive to aid Bruce’s work as she believes he has “saved our lives”.
- Praise God that we are the recipient of a Commonwealth Bank grant which will allow us to extend Bruce’s counselling services until the end of the first quarter of 2021 – meaning we can provide support through the anniversary of the bushfires and the 2021 summer bushfire season.
- Pray that Bruce would look after his own wellness, and not get emotionally drained. Also pray for safety as he travels to work (4 hours one-way).
- Physical and mental rebuilding on the NSW South Coast is going to take time, so please pray for the churches amongst these communities who continue to care for their locals, and spread the word of God, despite their own struggles or fatigue.
- Pray that anyone who is in a position to support this work through prayer or financial donations would consider doing so.
- Pray for the 2020/21 fire season which may bring further devastation to the region along with the emotional toll of the recent trauma.