As the heartbreaking images of Aussies picking through the burnt rubble of their houses emerge, the human and emotional cost of this season’s bushfires is now starting to be felt.
It is into this environment that the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team goes. The Australian team of 36 chaplains have been on the ground across six bushfire affected regions since September, and now a team of Canadian chaplains has arrived to lend support.
The Australian arm of the Rapid Response Team was formed in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria and is led by Stewart Beveridge.
Stewart is the Regional Manager for Australia and New Zealand, and is currently working in the East Gippsland region of Victoria which has seen fire ravage the community. Sadly the area has had around 1700 properties impacted by the fires which have also resulted in lives lost.
Stewart told 96five’s Tim Charles that you could taste the smoke and ash in the air, and the mood amongst locals was sombre.
“The area feels like it’s had the breath knocked out of it, and people are feeling that in all sorts of ways. Businesses in the area have really taken a blow, and they are struggling with some grim realities.”
Stewart said that even if a resident was lucky enough to have escaped being impacted by the fires, it was likely that they knew someone directly who had.
“The levels of connection are very deep and strong here in country Victoria, and that increases the impact – it’s not just someone on the news, this is up close and personal.”
On the Ground
Part of the role of the chaplains is to take the time to lend a listening ear to those in the fire zones. As Stewart also points out sometimes it’s just being present and spending time with someone who needs the support.
“The valley of their experience can be very deep and dark; sometimes they need to express that but sometimes a quiet, silent presence is the most affirming thing we can do.”
With the chaplaincy teams already on the ground in East Gippsland, more rapid response chaplains will shortly deploy to the south coast of New South Wales to assist in the recovery after that area’s bushfire crisis.
If you’d like more information on how to volunteer or support the work of the Rapid Response Chaplains you can visit the Billy Graham Australia website.