Offering help, hope and kindness during the tough times.
The Salvation Army called my husband Richard and me last month, to see if we could assist with bushfire relief interviews in Glen Innes, northern New South Wales, about 200km south of our home in Warwick, south-east Queensland.
We were able to go so we did.
Captains Leanne and Lincoln Stevens Salvation Army officers (ministers) and disaster recovery specialists, were already in town, stationed in their mobile office behind the Town Hall. The Stevens have recently been travelling around Queensland and New South Wales supporting small communities impacted by years of devastating drought and, for many, recent bushfires as well.
I was a bit worried about working in a caravan — the heat and I don’t mix! I was pleased to arrive and see that the mobile office, clearly identified as The Salvation Army in the carpark, was air-conditioned.
I admire the innovation of a mobile vehicle and the willingness of the Stevens to work through the logistics of setting up in impacted communities, drive into those country towns and offer assistance in areas that had suffered, and continue to suffer, greatly.
Leanne trained me in bushfire relief before she and Lincoln returned to Townsville, where floods were threatening.
Richard and I, along with Major Keith Hampton, a retired Salvation Army officer, worked from the mobile office for three days.
As we interviewed those impacted by the fires, we frequently heard them say there were others worse off than them. For some reason people felt that if their house was still standing they didn’t deserve financial assistance, even though their water tanks and poly pipes (used for drainage, plumbing, water supply, water management, heating and ventilation) were destroyed, all trade equipment, fences, cars, sheds and even back patios were melted, and pets and outside animals all lost.
Many people had been out of their homes since 8 November 2019.
People recounted this day as the fiercest fire ever seen in that area. One man told me that his house burnt down in four minutes. The fire was described to me as a monster, and evil, and one gentleman even called it the devil. No matter what people lost, the trauma was very apparent in so many of those who met with us. There were many tears as people described the ‘hellish’ hour and a half that took everything from them.
So many keepsakes, photos and proudly self-built homes were completely lost. One lady who lived in a community that had been ravaged was sleeping in a tepee back on site. She has lived there for 32 years. Her greatest loss, she kept telling me, was her father’s ashes. She repeatedly asked me, “How many times can you burn ashes?” Of all the things she had lost, it was her father’s urn that was the biggest loss in her traumatised state.
As money was distributed in that town, I became convinced that The Salvation Army is privileged to listen to people’s stories of tragedy and be part of offering practical help, hope and kindness as they face some of their toughest times.
People appreciate the monetary gifts and physical help, but the human heart, especially in desperate circumstances, will always remember genuine encounters of love and compassion when offered by the people of Jesus at just
the right time.
Captain Leanne Hardaker is a Salvation Army officer in Southern Downs (Qld).