Only 12,500 people live in central West Queensland, spanning an area nearly a third the size of Victoria. That equates to about one person per 13,000 hectares.
In the city known as the heart of Outback Queensland, Longreach Baptist Church is launching an Outback Connect project to increase social connection and break down isolation in rural communities.
“The prevalence of mental health and wellbeing issues is higher in rural and remote communities, and the impact is much deeper. Social, economic, and geographic barriers to seeking help prevent many from accessing support, leading to poor mental health and wellness outcomes,” explains Pastor Steve Ballin.
Although Steve has only been at Longreach for 2½ years, he says the Church there has always had the heart to reach people in rural and remote settings, especially since some members travel more than two hours and more than half of its members travel more than Travel 50 km to attend a Sunday service.
“After just going through a 10-year drought, the church ran a program for several years that supported farm workers, such as wage earners, so that farmers could still hire them. Eventually, all the contractors left the city because there wasn’t enough work,” he said. He. †
“So we started praying about how we can support the West, and this Outback Connect idea came up in the middle of last year where we started looking at how you can support people in isolated situations. How do you build resilient communities? What can we do? What is our role to play in this?”
Thanks to a grant from Queensland Baptists outreach, Carinity, the Church is building a growing team to lend a listening ear to encourage and support isolated people. Longreach is one of 14 churches and organizations in Queensland to receive more than $350,000 in its first year of Carinity Collaborative Community Projects.
“At the most basic level, we develop a team of people who can regularly connect with people in isolated situations, not trying to meet their needs, but trying to help them think about their situation and make the changes they need to make,” says Steve.
The key is to teach people not to give advice but to listen and ask good questions so that the person they interact with can reflect, although they do have a list of resources to refer a person to based on their needs.
While the program is still in its infancy, the team quickly realized that many people are uncomfortable entering and building relationships with strangers. So they launched a series of community events to connect with people across the West.
“Our flagship is what we call a Paddock Day. We bring all farmers and anyone interested in a region together for a day and get a holistic approach to well-being,” says Steve.
“Most farmers here have a very intimate relationship with the land. When the country hurts, they hurt.” – Steve Ballin.
During the event, agricultural consultants such as a nutritionist will talk about the different grasses that come up after the drought, someone with a financial background in the farming sector explaining how to manage stock sales, and someone who provides an emotional or mental health perspective.
“The theme we are working on is resilience. So resilience in nutrition, your finances, and your emotions — building that resilient community and helping them see that they have a role to play in building that resilient community,” says Steve.
“We must not forget that we were in drought last year. Now everything is green, but the land is not yet completely healed. You will need a seed bank to grow the grasses every year. The grass and grass we currently have will probably disappear in the next 12 months if we don’t get more rain, and if we don’t get that seed bank in the ground, it won’t be long before the farmers are back in the same place.”
Steve notes that farmers are heavily influenced by what happens on their propertieManyt of people see farmers as people who abuse the land. Still, most farmers here have a very intimate relationship with the ground. If the foot hurts, it hurts. When the land grows and flourishes, they are happy.”
The team will also provide basic training to others on how to support someone who has been hurt if they don’t want to talk to people at the Church because “research shows that about 80 percent of our problems are resolved when we talk to someone who is hurting.” we trust what we can talk to,” said Steve.
He reiterates that the key is to resist attempts to solve people’s problems, as he discovered during a telephone conversation with a farmer who was having issues with his son.
“His son was in his mid-teens, and he was starting to push back a bit. He struggled because he wanted his son to stay and take over the family farm. And the son had aspirations broader than the farm. I also had a relationship with my son. And so everything in me wanted to drive up to the property and fix the problem, but I thought, ‘No, that’s not going to help these guys because then I have to be there for this problem to find a solution.’ So I could listen. I could ask those questions to help him think about the things he said. And the good news was it took some time, but they could work through that, and that guy appreciated that I was there as a bit of a sounding board.
“Through these questions, people have access to the grace, the invitation to relationship, and the challenge of the kingdom of God, through these questions.” – Steve Ballin.
Steve says the Bible is the best model for asking powerful questions, where most of the questions Jesus asked were for the other person’s benefit.
“Even in the Old Testament, God asked people questions countless times. His first question to Adam was, ‘Where are you?’ – that was not in favor of God; that was in Adam’s favor. Over and over in Elijah with Job, through the Bible, we see that these good, powerful questions help people judge where they are and then help them move forward,” says Steve.
“And we see it so strongly in the life of Jesus. Through these questions, people can access the grace, the invitation to relationship, and the challenge of the kingdom of God.”
When asked how hard it is to get a farmer to sit down and talk about their mental health, Steve says it’s almost impossible — if you’re a stranger.
“But Jesus also modeled this. He went where people were; he loved them and served them, and from that came the needs of people. And so that’s really what we do. We’re going to where these people are. We love and serve them.
“We’re not going to evangelize them. We are not ashamed that we belong to a church and are Christians, and when they are ready to talk about spiritual things, we are ready to have those conversations. But if they never want to do that, we’ll never go there, but we’ll still love and serve them because that’s what Jesus did.”