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‘Hundreds of people came day and night’

by ervte

“Honestly, I’m very tired. I am the coordinator for Nepean Anglicare Disaster Recovery. We cover a large area (Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Penrith, Hawkesbury), and we’ve had three major disasters in three years. I know it’s nothing compared to the Northern Rivers, NSW. They’ve had it so much worse than us. But I think it’s the amplifying effect.

First, it was the late 2019 fires. The magnitude of it was huge in the higher mountains, Lithgow and Hawkesbury. We also sent teams to Batemans Bay. Then there was the mini-flood in March 2020. Then there was a major flood in March 2021. Our recovery centers were activated until June 4 last year. Eleven months later, the great flood on March 2, 2022, affected the same area and people. A thousand households were displaced in Hawkesbury… and our recovery centers were activated until May 27.'Hundreds of people came day and night'

It has been a tiring and challenging time. I feel for the people of the northern rivers. Even the authorities are scratching their heads. How can we build resilience? The biggest problem is access. How can we even help in an evacuation center if we can’t get there? I remember people discussing the difficulty of motivating volunteers during long periods of inactivity. Now I wish for long periods of inactivity! Of course, climate change will only make matters worse.

I volunteered for disaster recovery in 2006. I went to a training day at my local church and joined the team. Then in 2012, there were floods in Moree, and we flew in a small plane. I was then asked to become a team leader. I said no! I want to learn!’ We were out there, driving hundreds of miles every day to isolated properties and towns inundated by flooding. But the team was great. There were six of us, and we got along very well. So I agreed to take on the leadership and attended another training in June 2013. I wasn’t sure why, but it was God’s timing.

Springwood had horrific fires just four months later (in October 2013). It has changed my life. It was huge. I had a team of 35 people at the time (all of us volunteers), and we helped set up the evacuation center in Springwood—hundreds of people passed by day and night. We handed out food and toiletries and did what we could. Two hundred three houses were lost. It wasn’t very pleasant. If you run an evacuation center, you are open 24 hours a day, to begin with, and I coordinated all the volunteers and got people in from other areas. Then there were the months of helping at the recovery centers and other organizations.

After that, our team doubled to 75 within a few years. They are generous, enthusiastic people. I like to work with them. Most of us are in our 60s or older, a variety of people. As humans, we have not been good stewards of God’s world. I think all of heaven is crying… and it will get worse. Of course, I don’t have all the answers. The older I get, the more questions I have! But it’s good to be able to do something practical to help people. In evacuation and rescue centers, we try to share the love of God with our presence. We are not open, although sometimes we pray for people. They know why we are there. Sometimes we hear from them: ‘Thank you. You gave me goods or food just when I needed it.’

My favorite verse is Proverbs 3: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding. Submit to him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.’ Often it is only afterward that we see the hand of God – like that training I did in June 2013. It was perfect timing for that year’s fires, just what I needed. And I know God is with us in all situations, even the dangerous ones. It’s my faith that keeps me going!”

Heather’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, curated by Naomi Reed. Click here for more faith stories.

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