In the latter months of 2019, bushfires destroyed some parts of our nation. In late January 2020, the earlier stages of recovery, 10 News First Sydney revealed that some charities had not yet allocated some of the funds donated for bushfire relief. NSW Minister Andrew Constance took to Twitter to say: “It’s been amazing to see the goodwill of people both here and abroad in donating millions towards the bushfire recovery effort. But the money needs to start reaching our people and communities who need it most – not sitting in bank accounts.
Wanting to engage with this national issue, the Baptist Association’s Disaster Relief & Recovery Campaign established a fund where donations helped Baptist Churches support impacted people. In mid-January, the Baptist Association sent a team (consisting of our Public Engagement Coordinator (Kelly Crawford), our Church Development Director (Ian Altman) and our Leadership Development Director (Grae McWhirter)) down to the South Coast – an area that had recently faced significant bushfires – to meet with a few of our most affected churches. During this visit, the team was able to ensure that the money raised swiftly reached affected communities, by disbursing funds through churches who could identify locals in need.
The Batemans Bay region battled destructive fires. But Batemans Bay Baptist Church were able to quickly put some of the funds raised to great use. They provided locals with vouchers for groceries, personal care and fuel. After a car accident caused by fallen trees, they offered a family one week’s worth of car rental. They helped provide another family with a new rainwater tank, after months of bushfire-ash contamination. They replaced gifts for children who lost Christmas presents. And, the long-term loan of a caravan was organised for an uninsured local who lost their home.
The church’s Secretary, Peter Johnson, said, “The support from other baptist churches across NSW, and indeed Australia, as well as our Baptist Association, has been wonderful in granting significant funds to specific families…We’re trying to meet their needs on a daily basis, and show the love of Christ in our community” – and many of the fire-affected locals have responded with comments such as: ‘Your church is an asset to the community’.
Hawkesbury Valley Baptist Church was also able to quickly use the funds to engage with their community. ‘Missions & Community Ministry Leader’ Linnah Hahn explained: “Council contacted us when a woman’s overseas children called them to say that their mother, who we’ll call ‘Lady M’, needed help. We discovered that her strife included an inability to pay a significant bill for re-establishing the electricity infrastructure on her property. The Baptist community has been generous with Bushfire Recovery & Relief donations, and we were blessed to have access to these funds. Through these connections, Lady M’s power infrastructure bill will be paid, and she won’t have to worry about that particular debt.”
You can also hear how Blackheath Baptist Church used their funds here.
This prompt allocation of funds was a huge relief for many. “Trying to get onto waiting lists to get money from the government is a little daunting,” Ian explained, “But when we visited these pastors we were able to say to them, ‘We can transfer this amount of money now, and it’ll be in your bank account tomorrow’. Being able to do that on the spot through a computer was extremely powerful.” Kelly added, “When someone has experienced such tremendous loss, for a church to be able to say, ‘We love you, here’s some money that has been donated for you’ – we don’t know how that fully affects somebody, to in that moment feel supported.”
With matching grants from Baptist Financial Services and BaptistCare, about $320,000.00 has been raised for bushfire relief (at the time of writing). We would like to give a shout out to the Burmese Christian Church in Sydney who donated $5,000.00, to Central Baptist Church who made a large donation of $10,000.00, and to the Japan Baptist Women’s Union who also made a generous donation – despite being overseas. But we would really like to thank every church and individual who has contributed in any way over this period. It’s been great to see such generosity and unity within our movement.
“…By this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:35