By Kelly Crawford
*Excerpts of this document come from a summary written by Colin Earnshaw, a church member of Wagga Wagga Baptist Church and a volunteer assisting churches with their bushfire responses. Thanks to Colin for his work and insight.
Parts of the Riverina, NSW were greatly affected by bushfires during late 2019/early 2020. In Batlow alone, a number of homes were lost and one person died. There were over 400 properties registered with Service NSW for clean up in the Snowy Valley.
During the bushfires Colin Earnshaw reported,
- Tumut Baptist Church became and ran the relief and volunteer feeding point in that part of the fire area.
- Gundagai Baptist Church ran, or was heavily involved, in the running of the Gundagai centre and provided meals and “snack packs” to the Tarcutta RFS staging post.
- Wagga & Gundagai Baptist Churches have and continue to be involved in feeding the Blaze Aid volunteers stationed at Adelong.
- Our own church [Wagga Wagga Baptist] collected food and goods for affected people and delivered food to Gundagai and other areas where it was distributed.
Colin also reported that,
Across the region, hundreds of homes and even more sheds were destroyed along with thousands of Kilometres of fencing, crops, orchids, stock, wildlife, etc.
For some farmers, the loss of animal stock was profound with some stock stampeding into a gully and other stock having to be shot so they wouldn’t be burnt in the fires. The losses are deep and will be felt for a long time.
Baptist Churches in the Riverina continue to be involved in bushfire recovery efforts. Gundagai Baptist Church has distributed gift vouchers and other aid (“including a subsidy for children from fire effected families, at the Batlow Preschool”), supporting local business and bushfire affected individuals and families.
Wagga Wagga Baptist Church has also distributed gift vouchers through the region in an area running from Tarcutta right down to the Victorian border.
Colin reports that,
Most of our “aid” is simply giving out vouchers to local businesses. Steve Forbes-Taber has been our main coordinator. He has travelled around the area on his motorbike, identifying affected people talking to them and letting them share their stories (often very important) and giving out the gift voucher.
The cash value is virtually insignificant in light of the losses but it is saying someone cares and it may meet an immediate need. (Steve visited on farm and while talking to him the farmer saw a bit of a building flapping in the wind and said I had better nail that down, but then realized he no longer had a hammer as it had been burnt. A voucher to the local hardware shop helped address that.)
It also tells people that the church isn’t indifferent to their needs and situation and provides a first contact for future opportunities’ with the Gospel.
Thanks to everyone who has donated to the bushfire fund and who has been praying for churches in bushfire affected areas. The assistance that churches provide comes with the offer of a listening ear, prayer, and a relationship sharing the love of Jesus through word and deed.
 ABC News. 7 Jan 2020. “Fires in NSW leave Batlow residents returning to rubble after ‘hairy ’weekend.” Accessed at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-06/nsw-fires-in-batlow-residents-return-home-to-damage/11845072