As temperatures hover around a humid and soggy 90 degrees, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains are entering their fifth week of ministry to flood-affected residents of Townsville, Queensland.
To date, a group of 12 crisis-trained chaplains has talked and prayed with more than 300 people. Their stories seem as numerous and unique as the tiny and dangerous jellyfish teeming in the coastal waters nearby.
The chaplains have met a single mother of four who lost all her belongings in the flood; a widow grieving the recent death of her husband; an elderly woman who had to think fast when looters descended upon her neighborhood.
‘The Church Led the Way’
While working alongside disaster relief ministry Samaritan’s Purse, the members of the Rapid Response Team have seen a remarkable display of kindness, unity and resilience within Townsville.
Stewart Beveridge is the regional manager of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team for Australia and New Zealand. When flooded highways and airport runways reopened to allow disaster relief organizations into the area, he found local churches already hard at work, sending large groups of volunteers into the community to help residents begin the long process of recovery.
“The church led the way, and the city took notice,” Beveridge said.
Loss and Suffering
While a sense of determination permeates Northern Queensland, there is also a deep sense of loss. The relentless flooding took the lives of two young men at the beginning of February. More recently, a dangerous and swollen river claimed the lives of two little boys from an Aboriginal community. The brothers were just 3 and 5 years old; it appears as though they were playing on the riverbank when they were swept away.
Rapid Response Team chaplains spent time visiting a memorial site for the boys. The chaplains were able to talk and pray with devastated neighbors who had helped in the frantic search for the brothers and now grieve over their heartbreaking loss.
For other Queensland residents affected by the historic floods, losses are material in nature. Recent news headlines have focused on the deaths of hundreds of thousands of cattle. Farmers are fearing personal financial ruin, and broader economic consequences could affect the entire nation.
‘The Only Things of Value Last Forever’
In Townsville, where many people have lost all their belongings, chaplains are encountering residents who say the flood has changed their views on life.
“Disasters like this change your perspective about how you hold things,” one young man shared with Beveridge. “It becomes suddenly clear that the only things of value last forever. Everything else can be left behind.”
That man, who is Christian and a member of the defense force, lost all of his possessions in the flood.
“That’s how I met him,” Beveridge said. “I and a bunch of young adults helped carry his entire life to the curb. In the midst of that I saw a firm confidence that God is bigger than this flood.
“I saw [him acknowledging], ‘The definition of myself is not built around the things I have; it’s built around Jesus Christ and who I am in Him.’
“He is still walking around with a big grin on his face and a joy in life. Yes, this flood has made his life uncomfortable, but the joy of the Lord is his strength.”
A Relationship That Can’t Be Washed Away
For another Townsville resident, the flood led to a life-changing conversation that brought unexpected peace.
The chaplains recently met a man and woman whose home was damaged by the flood. A long conversation with the couple revealed many ongoing struggles, as well as questions.
The chaplains listened to their story and had the opportunity to share what the Bible says about hope amid crisis. They used the booklet “Steps to Peace with God” to illustrate how Jesus died for the sins of all who call on Him as Savior.
As they came to a simple illustration showing that Jesus is like a bridge between sinful human beings and a perfect God, the woman couldn’t contain her excitement.
“That’s what I’ve been searching for!” she said. “I understand that clearly.”
She decided to pray with the chaplains, asking Jesus Christ to come into her heart and lead the way from that day forward.
“She wanted to know the foundation of her life was built on more than the things that had been washed out, destroyed, turned to mold,” Beveridge said.
The man still had some questions regarding his own faith but was supportive of his partner’s decision. For her, the temporary devastation of the flood had led to the eternal hope and peace she had been seeking.
The chaplains’ daily prayer is for many more Australians to encounter everlasting hope.
“Our prayer is that they will recognize God’s presence in the midst of this crisis,” Beveridge said.
“That the actions and the heart of the church, Samaritan’s Purse, and the chaplains to support them in their time of need will be a declaration of God’s love and His presence and His help.
“And that people will put their trust in a relationship that cannot ever be taken away or washed away or destroyed by disaster.”
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