Cobargo, Quaama, Brogo: Lessons from the fires of hell

Mandy Wheatley, an Anglican minister working as a locum in the Cobargo and Bermagui districts in southern NSW, reflects on the bushfires in her parish (church area), which includes the small towns in Dignam’s Creek, Quaama and Brogo.

In the apocalyptic conditions that assailed the NSW south coast on New Year’s Eve, the little church of St Saviours in Quaama was lost. One parishioner, living next-door to the church and who stayed to defend his home that night, says it seemed as though St Saviours took the brunt of the flames and thus protected the next three houses in the street, including his own.

Two parishioners lost their homes, and everyone else knows someone who has lost home, farm or business, livestock, wildlife, pets or means of income because of the exodus of so many of our Christmas holiday visitors. We have mourned the loss of the father and son of the well known and loved Salway family in Cobargo.

Once the danger eased and the roads were opened, it was my immediate task to locate our parishioners, who had been evacuated north and south to places of safety as the fires raged, and then we began to share the stories of incredible loss, survival and heroism.

We have learned many lessons as Christians and community members during the past few weeks.

We have learned how sweet a glass of clean water is, how priceless is clement weather and most importantly the blessing of rain. We have felt the fires of hell and seen them glowing around us.

We have learned how important simple hugs, touches and smiles can be to heal and ease the pain of fear and loss.

We have learned that we must care for one another, because we are in this together. This life, this world, this creation surrounding us, connects us all to each other whether we acknowledge that or not.

Today we see the miracle of new grass growing again through the scorched earth with the slightest touch of rain.

Our congregations came together last Sunday like weary soldiers who have seen the front line of battle, coming back to headquarters where we are to meet with our beloved Commander-in-Chief. We are small communities within small rural communities, helped and supported by a much larger community of saints and martyrs who pray for us, love us and who stretch around the world and back in time to Christ our Saviour. As we celebrated the feast day of the Baptism of our Lord, we felt their power, their encouragement and their witness to the goodness of God.

We renewed our baptismal vows to go and share the light of Christ in the darkness of the world, to bring a message of hope and salvation to those around us in our words and in our deeds through the power of the Holy Spirit who emboldens us, encourages us and teaches us more than the world ever can, even when the fires of hell come close. Today we see the miracle of new grass growing again through the scorched earth with the slightest touch of rain and birds and animals come back into the landscape. Life is a miracle – a gift from God.

May we delight in our gracious Lord and give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thes 5.16-18)