An update by David Harris, AP NCM Coordinator
In spite of their own losses, Australian Nazarenes are banding together to show Christ’s love to their needy neighbors during the flooding disaster that has taken place in Queensland over the past weeks. Following is a summary of events.
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"The city of Brisbane is the latest Queensland community to be devastated by the flooding that has rampaged throughout the state since Christmas.
Having wreaked havoc in regional and rural towns, the Brisbane CBD (central business district) and suburbs scrambled to evacuate downtown offices and businesses, as well as low-lying homes, in preparation for the forecast unprecedented flooding. 1974 was the benchmark in many peoples’ living memory, when in some areas the flood waters reached 18m – this was expected to be superseded by a 20m peak. However, recent predictions are that the flooding will be the worst in more than a century. The death toll across the State is 12, around 20,000 homes are expected to be flooded in Brisbane by Thursday morning, with an estimated 43 people still missing.
In Brisbane’s outer-west, Clive and Felicity Paige, with their family, evacuated their home in Jindalee, approx. 12 kms from downtown – the Paiges are members of the Inala church.
The south eastern Queensland town of Toowoomba, home to Australia Northern Pacific District Superintendent Michael Schmidt and his family, had only days earlier been deluged with flooding that cut a swathe of destruction and tragedy across the state. There seems to be consensus about the validity of the description of the raging waters as an ‘inland tsunami’. DS Michael confirms that only one member of his Toowoomba congregation,Mr Barry Maher, was affected, and was assisted in the clean up of relatively minor flooding by his DS and another member of the church. The major issue with the flooding in Toowoomba was the rapid development of the situation, that was unexpected, leaving many ill-prepared.
(video of water flow outside Schmidt home – http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/video/video.php?v=497835588258&comments)
The wall of water that inundated Toowoomba was only a street away from the home of Pauline Sheppard, NMI Asia Pacific’s Regional Co-ordinator. Pauline recalls having to evacuate their home for five days when it was also flooded in ’74. However, they were spared any damage in this week’s floods. Pauline and her husband, Graeme, Work & Witness Co-ordinator, Australia / New Zealand, only recently returned from participating in the Australia Southern District Assembly in Melbourne, capital of the south-eastern state of Victoria. However, the trip home took almost twice as long due to the poor condition of the flood-damaged roads, where potholes reduced travelling to almost half the open road limits. Pauline is co-ordinating the preparation and distribution of Crisis Care Kits and School Pal Packs to affected areas.
Monitoring the situation since the flooding initially began with extensive heavy rainfall leading up to Christmas week, DS Michael expressed great relief that none of our members or churches were adversely affected. However, the reality is that our churches are a vital part of communities where there has been significant loss of property and, tragically, lives. The immediate priority is to be available to provide whatever support is necessary, to help people cope with the impact and magnitude of this disaster. NazCare (NCM Australia) and NCM Asia Pacific Regional Co-ordinator, David Harris, is partnering with the District, to support and resource the relief efforts of the local church.
As in many of the affected areas, Rev. George Steele, pastor of the north Queensland church in Bundaberg, reports that the main damage has been sustained in lower lying areas, in the vicinity of river systems. Ps George was concerned about the growing challenge for small churches, such as his and the predominantly small churches across the denomination, to get involved practically, due to the barriers such as insurance, liability, accreditation. In some instances, emergency services and other relief or human service or volunteer agencies criteria for volunteers may preclude many from offering practical assistance. However, the Bundaberg church will explore opportunities through the relationships and connections they have in their local community in the days and weeks ahead, as the needs assessment is conducted.
With major highways closed, panic buying is depleting supplies, with shortages of basic necessities, such as milk and bread. Where waters have begun to recede, or where there are alternative transport options, authorities are working with suppliers to reduce further shortages and resume normal supply.
Many communities have been arbitrarily divided by flood waters, as is the case for David Jeffs, Richmond St church, Maryborough, where flood waters eventually peaked at 8 metres, a submerged bridge separates him and his family, and their central community.
Jeffs believes this isolation further compounded the challenges facing rural communities, particularly where sections of those communities already experienced isolation due to socio-economic or cultural factors. As there was some warning, residents were able to safeguard valuables, personal items or relocate household goods, and/or themselves.
As in any disaster or critical incident, children are particularly vulnerable. Ps Marian Kent, Maryborough, expressed her concern for the many children impacted by events of recent days. In the only recently faded shadow of Christmas celebrations, some face the bleak prospect of having lost not only their newly acquired Christmas gifts, but also treasured toys, games, bikes, in some instances, their homes, and tragically for some, family members or friends. Local churches wanting to be involved in providing support will be encouraged to provide sensitive and creative support for children, to lessen the impact of what has been, for some, a very traumatic experience.
Pastor James Howie, Biloela, is liaising with the local Council and ministers’ network, to determine relief and recovery priorities. Local residents are being bussed in to the Central Queensland town of Theodore at the start of each day where they begin the arduous task of mopping up, before returning to a mine camp serving as an evacuation centre for 300 residents since the week of New Year’s eve. Former missionary at Kudjip Nazarene Hospital, PNG, Barbara Strang, was a former resident of the town for approximately 15 years, and is assisting Ps Howie in contact with her former neighbours and friends, requiring assistance. Their actions an affirmative response to Premier of Qld, Anna Bligh’s challenge: "If you are not going to be affected, reach out to a neighbour. Reach out to friends and family." Initial contact has been established already with some of those families to determine their needs. Contact is yet to be established with another former missionary at Kudjip, Annette Hammill, who lives in nearby Beralaba.
Brisbane Mayor, Campbell Newman, in anticipation of the water reaching its peak around 4am Thursday morning, observed ‘When the water levels go down, that’s when the volunteering really starts. Grab a shovel and get your ute. But dress properly. No thongs.” Nazarenes who may not have been affected have already initiated involvement in various relief activities. On Tuesday evening, a group of men from the primarily Samoan congregation of Logan Community Church volunteered at a local council depot, filling sand bags throughout the night (see video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYSMpAC08rI and attached images). The church has also registered with authorities as an evacuation centre, if required. Associate pastor, Troy Wilson, has also been pro-active in seeking opportunities for the church’s involvement in relief efforts wherever possible.
The nation as a whole has been deeply moved and impacted by the scale of this disaster. The extent to which that impact is felt has been and will be expressed in the readiness of individuals to "grab a shovel", mop, or broom, and get alongside neighbour and stranger alike, and begin what will be an extended recovery and rehabilitation phase.
We urge the global church to fervently pray for the flood victims, for the relief personnel, and for Nazarenes as they extend open hands and hearts, seeking opportunities to be living channels of grace and compassion. Field Strategy Co-ordinator, Dr John Moore, echoes appreciation for the support of the global Nazarene family, affirms the willingness of Queensland Nazarenes to share the journey of their neighbours and communities as they navigate these turbulent times.
NazCare has launched a national appeal, with all funds being channelled through local churches, networks, or partnerships, to respond to the needs of flood victims."