‘It’s heartbreaking’: Australian chaplain gives fire update

A firefighters backs away from the flames after lighting a controlled burn near Tomerong, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in an effort to contain a larger fire nearby. Around 2,300 firefighters in New South Wales state were making the most of relatively benign conditions by frantically consolidating containment lines around more than 110 blazes and patrolling for lightning strikes, state Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

With the Australia bushfires spreading, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) is sending two groups of crisis-trained chaplains to the states of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) to offer emotional and spiritual care. At least 28 people have been killed due to the blaze. More than 2,200 homes have burned and 26 million acres destroyed.

Since September, the RRT’s Australian team of 36 chaplains has traveled to six regions affected by flames, providing a listening ear and sharing hope. Now, they’re recruiting Billy Graham chaplains from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. to assist during the ongoing fire season.

“It seems to be in Australia, there’s always a flood or a drought,” said Steward Beveridge, RRT manager of Australia/New Zealand. “This is certainly the worst combination I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

Beveridge, a Scottish immigrant who moved to Australia as a child, and other crisis-trained Australian chaplains have talked with dozens of people over the last four months.

Whether waiting in line at a coffee shop, sitting on the veranda of a farmer’s home or joining people at a community barbecue—people are telling their story, and in turn, chaplains have been “getting to share that incredible truth: God is present and anyone can know His peace,” Beveridge said.

Although Australia’s been battling a drought for nearly a decade, the fires fueled by dry terrain and winds have taken some by surprise.

“The whole nation is a little overwhelmed by the size, power, duration of this fire,” Beveridge explained.

“People in the country regions are most affected by these fires,” he continued. “They’re a hardy bunch used to living in remote communities and isolation. They’ll stand up, dust themselves off and keep moving forward.

“But what impresses me most is people turn up from everywhere to give a hand. Being Australian means sticking up for your mates.”

The main fire threat is now in Victoria and NSW.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Beveridge said. “Just to drive through what has been beautifully wooded, dense bushland and see fire scarring up the land and trees … knowing that bush that was filled with life is now dormant. We hope and long for refreshing rain.”

Chaplains are finding that many are “weary, burdened and feeling overwhelmed.”

“God has been reminding me the beautiful words in Matthew’s Gospel: Come to Me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,’” Beveridge said. “When I have the opportunity to talk with people, there are tears and a moment of silence as they reflect on the words and take comfort in them.”

As chaplains give a listening ear for people to share what they’re going through, “Their story gives me an opportunity to describe the bigger picture of God not abandoning people,” Beveridge added. “Even in this low time, God still has His hand and heart in their story.”

How you can pray:

“Please pray we will recognize every open door God puts before us and have courage to step through them so conversations about hope, faith and God’s compassion can follow,” Beveridge requested.

In addition, lift up the safe arrival of the international team arriving in a few days.

“It’s going to be a real experience bringing all those backgrounds together and watching God at work, using all our differences and passion to serve a bunch of people really traumatized and needing hope,” Beveridge said. “We want to share the hope we know in God through this storm.”

Do you have faith in God during difficult circumstances? Trust Him today.