by Lisa McIntosh

It’s not overstating things to say that it’s been a rough few years for some in many parts of Australia and New Zealand. Even apart from the tragedies and disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, floods, fires, droughts and more floods have destroyed lives, homes, businesses, property, land, livestock and livelihoods. Through it all, prayers, and financial and practical support from our Lutheran family are continuing to bring hope and shine Jesus’ love and light into dark days.

By the time Advent began last year, Pastor James Leach from the New South Wales Central West Lutheran Parish had been offering support, listening to, and talking and praying with people worst hit by the flood emergency in and around Forbes for several weeks.

Thanks to the support of our wider Lutheran family through donations being deposited in the LCA Disaster & Welfare Fund and assistance distributed under the direction of the NSW and ACT District, Pastor James and his wife Adele had been able to prepare and share home-cooked meals, other food and drinks, gift cards, tracts and other items in the first few weeks of the crisis.

With gifts of food and on gift card envelopes, Pastor James attached a note including the following wording, along with the LCA logo: ‘We know you must be dealing with so much right now, but we just wanted to reach out and tell you that you are in our hearts. Please know that there are people throughout Australia praying for you … If there is any way I can provide assistance, please just ask.’

While almost 100 families have now been helped through small financial gifts, and a further 40 to 50 families have accepted prayers or food, Pastor James knew many more families were struggling and in need.

One day in December, he was wondering whether what they were doing was enough. Then a parishioner told him about a news item on Channel Ten’s current affairs and talk show, The Project. Rebecca, a local pregnant mother of three, was being interviewed about having lost the family home and almost everything in it in the floods – and then to looters. Despite having to live in a tent with her partner and children and being in and out of hospital with early labour concerns, she said she was incredibly thankful for the support of locals, including home-cooked meals from the Lutheran Church.

It was the boost Pastor James needed – and evidence of ‘God’s timing’, he says. Not because of the recognition – it was the fact that ‘small gestures’ of love have meant so much to people who were suffering.

‘I was feeling a little bit low and vulnerable. And then I got to watch this interview on The Project of a person we’ve just been loving as much as we could – it was amazing’, he says.

Pastor James had prayed with Rebecca that her unborn baby would go to full term. He had given a reference and advocated for the family in their search for accommodation. Baby Sadie-Anne was born safely on New Year’s Eve after 38 weeks of pregnancy and, in the second week of January, the family secured accommodation for six to 12 months. Despite the house not being in the best condition or the best neighbourhood, Pastor James says Rebecca and her family are incredibly grateful to have a home – and for the ongoing support of and connection with the LCANZ.

Pastor James, too, is very grateful for donations from the wider Lutheran family. As of mid-January, around $15,000 had been distributed, and he expects to give out about $5000 more.

He said the support of the church had been both ‘humbling and empowering’ as they have reached out to those in the community with practical and moral support.

‘We are so thankful for the support that we’ve already received’, said Pastor James, who added that he was ‘blown away’ by the response to the appeal. ‘It means more than I can express. The encouragement that has given me that the church was praying for us – it’s uplifting, humbling and empowering.

‘I was also able to put together a number of small Christmas hamper boxes for the families that we’d already helped, as a second point of contact. I figured we’d go back to those people and see where we’d already planted some seeds of hope and see how we could help again.

‘We’ve been asked by a few of the bigger families whether we could help any further, which we have. Just because we were there initially, there have been a number of doors open up where people are a lot softer to being with us.’

Adele Leach said beyond the devastation they had seen and the heartache they felt as they headed around Forbes to see people, offering sandwiches, water, tea and coffee, they were left with a ‘feeling of privilege’. ‘[We felt] that we were welcome to step into people’s lives at their most devastated’, she said.

One example was when Pastor James was contacted by the single mum of a three-year-old foster daughter, who was asking for help. ‘She told me how her daughter was really struggling because she was wondering how Santa was going to work out where to put the presents this year, as their Christmas tree had been washed away’, Pastor James said. ‘It just broke my heart. So, I organised a Christmas tree. We got decorations, and I went over and decorated the tree with the daughter.

‘All of the drywall and insulation has been removed from their house due to the flood damage, so you could see from one side to the other. When I asked the little girl where she wanted the tree, she said, “Right here”, pointing to the middle of the house. When I asked, “Why’s that?”, she said, “Because no matter where I am in the house, I’ll be able to see the Christmas star, and that will make me happy”.’

And then there has been great support from the wider community – people outside the church with whom Pastor James and Adele have connected. When Pastor James reached out via social media to locals for a spare second-hand Christmas tree for another family, he ended up with 13 under his verandah!

NSW–ACT District Administrator Russell Veerhuis said what has happened in the Central West Parish is ‘the church in action’. ‘This is an example of the church getting out there and loving people, fulfilling our call as Christians to love all people, not just other Lutherans’, he said. ‘This is the church in action.’

Ways to donate can be found on the LCA website at www.lca.org.au/disaster-welfare

For more stories about flood responses and support in Lutheran communities in other areas, see the LCA website at www.lca.org.au/category/news

Visit the Worship Planning Page for prayers for flood-affected communities at www.lca.org.au/worship/wpp/lutheran-family-rallies-around-flood-hit-communities  

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