Australia: Consoling, helping, connecting
Lutherans support those suffering losses during the bushfire crisis
(LWI) – "If you can take a positive out of this tragedy, it’s the fact that the community works together, everyone pulls together," said Woodside Lutheran Church chairperson Darren Juers reflecting on the recent bushfires in Australia.
By mid-January, the fires had claimed 29 lives, destroyed more than 2,300 homes, killed an estimated 1.25 billion animals and razed more than 10 million hectares of land.
Members and congregations of the Lutheran Church of Australia, an associate member of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), have been at the forefront of community efforts to serve, minister to and offer relief to those who have suffered losses during the national bushfire crisis.
A makeshift evacuation center
Sign to bushfire evacuation point – The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at Tuggeranong, ACT, opened its doors as an emergency evacuation center.
At Tuggeranong in the Australian Capital Territory, the Lutheran church became a makeshift evacuation center for several days in early January as holidaymakers headed west after being moved out of towns along the coast and cut off by a closed highway.
About 25 people stayed overnight at the church, either in the building or using its carpark to accommodate camper trailers. Volunteers from the church and the local community arrived to help, including preparing food for and offering support to the guests.
“It’s been on our hearts to connect with the wider community a lot,” said Pastor Paul Hannola of the Good Shepherd congregation. “But this relief center was just a new and unexpected way that none of us saw coming. When God’s moving, I’m just trying to keep up with what he’s doing and not get in the way of it.”
Providing meals and helping farmers
Home-cooked meals have been delivered to more than 700 homes of people who suffered losses in the fires in the Adelaide Hills.
In the Adelaide Hills a team from St John’s Lutheran Church Woodside instigated what became a multi-parish, cross-denominational, community relief effort.
Kelly Johnston, who is coordinating the relief distribution with fellow St John’s member Tania Schoell and other volunteers, said up to 1,800 home-cooked meals had been delivered to members of the community who had suffered losses in the fires, along with baked goods, hampers of non-perishables and vouchers for use at local retail businesses.
Johnston said the meal and food donations were a practical way for the local churches to show love to the broader community. “What some have gone through is so unbelievable, I have no words to describe what it’s like, but in a small way we can do something.”
The Juers family are thanking God that all their cattle survived the fire that decimated large parts of the Adelaide Hills on 20 December.
Other members are helping fire victims with farming issues such as fence repair, stock management and hay supplies.
Woodside Lutheran Church chairperson Darren Juers said the food relief was a wonderful outreach into the community.
“The people who deliver the food stop at every house and just talk to the people. A lot people are too scared to leave their farms for fear of looters, so this is some of the only contact they have”, he said, adding that 30 to 40 per cent of the congregation was probably involved with fire relief in some way.
Woodside Lutheran chairperson and firefighting volunteer Darren Juers said it was great to see church and community members working together.
A chaplain supporting firefighters and evacuees
One of the people supporting evacuees is Pastor Mark Kleemann, Senior Chaplain at the Royal Australian Air Force Base East Sale south-east of Melbourne.
The only Lutheran chaplain in the Air Force, Kleemann believes military chaplains have a vital role to play in such emergencies – as well as in serving members of the armed forces.
Royal Australian Air Force Chaplain Mark Kleemann gives support to an evacuee from Mallacoota Beach at RAAF Base East Sale on 3 January 2020. (Photo: Corporal Nicole Dorrett)
“We have chaplains in the military, not just for situations like the fires, but for other very good reasons too. We support members and look after families, advise the chain of command and keep them informed about how people are doing – especially with the fatigue which comes upon them because of their focus in a situation like this,” Kleemann said.
“So, our role is very much to meet people in their story, stay with them in their story and support them, and to help them walk a little stronger for having seen us than when they came in to see us.”
“The real heroes – aside from our firefighters and our first responders on the ground – are those who survive in pretty horrendous conditions,” Kleemann concludes.
Prayers for Australia
Prayers for Australia
LWF Regional Secretary for Asia Philip Lok expresses the solidarity of the global communion with those affected by the crisis: “As we stand in solidarity with the Lutheran Church of Australia by offering our prayers for those affected by the catastrophic bushfires, let us also recommit ourselves to be faithful stewards through tangible actions in caring for all of God’s creation.”
As a sign of hope and encouragement a series of prayers from across the denominations in Australia have been posted on social media.
This is one of them by Rev. Simon Hansford, Moderator of the Synod of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in the Uniting Church in Australia:
We are mindful of the days, weeks and months ahead,
for seasons of recovery and rebuilding,
of homes, farms, lives and communities;
we pray for strength, courage, patience and hope
as grieving continues,
as frustrations rise
and inevitable changes occur.
We pray, too, knowing that we are entering a harsher climate,
less predictable and more volatile;
as we care for each other, help us to care for your creation,
to be worthy stewards and advocates
of all which you have made.
Keep us faithful and alert
in our praying and our action;
in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.