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Prayer saved thousands in Mallacoota, claims ‘atheist’

‘Miraculous’ escape offers hope amid the ashes

David Jeffery, one of the “faces of Mallacoota” in recent bushfire coverage, is talking to Eternity amid the wreckage of his home town in the East Gippsland region of Victoria. But as neighbours drop by, whom he hasn’t seen since their world “turned black” a week ago, his voice is bursting with relief – and hope.

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“Forget about doom and gloom – there’s too many great stories,” says Jeffery, referring to the “miraculous events” that spared the lives of many in Mallacoota, including Jeffery and his neighbours. While he is truly devastated for those who lost lives or homes in his small beach town of only 1000, Jeffery is just blown away by all who were saved – including thousands of visiting holiday makers.

Jeffery, owner of the Wave Oasis B&B in Mallacoota, became the international face of Australia’s bushfire crisis after being featured on BBC News and SkyNews, as well as the ABC, on January 1. Footage of Jeffery describing the narrow escape from the firewall bearing down from Mallacoota wharf, where thousands of people huddled for safety, has been shared all over the world.

Jeffery was ­– ­incorrectly – labelled by some media as the “atheist who turned to prayer” when he asked God to change the direction of the wind as the fire front approached, to push it back away from the wharf. This is precisely what happened, however Jeffery – who has been Christian for more than 25 years- only mentioned his former atheism to show he understands how ridiculous his story may sound to those who don’t believe in “the God of the Bible”.

But Jeffery believes it’s hard to argue that the experience, witnessed by hundreds if not thousands sheltered at Mallacoota wharf, was anything less than a miraculous answer to prayer. “There is no way that it was all just luck,” he asserts.

As news of the approaching fire reached Mallacoota in the early hours of New Year’s Day, Jeffery and his neighbours were preparing to defend their homes against “an ember attack”. It wasn’t until Jeffery received advice from a neighbour in the police force and a friend who was a former fire chief that fire balls were a real possibility, that he decided to leave – retreating to the wharf along with guests staying at the B&B and his pets – two dogs, a cat, roster and two rescue ducks belonging to his two children (who were, thankfully, safe elsewhere).

BBC News image of David Jeffrey taken at Mallacoota wharf

Footage of David Jeffery speaking from Mallacoota wharf. BBC News

As the firewall loomed – which Jeffery says was reported to be 60 feet high and moving at 90 kilometres an hour – Jeffery and two older “prayer warriors” (along with many others around the nation) were praying.

“We could hear the roar. It sounded like a thousand freight trains coming at us. Then a huge gust, like someone had opened the door of a furnace, pushed us … It went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.”

“We were going to die. If the Lord hadn’t answered this next prayer, we would have had 30 seconds.” – David Jeffery

At this point Jeffery, along with many others, thought “we were going to die. If the Lord hadn’t answered this next prayer, we would have had 30 seconds.”

“I prayed, ‘Lord if you don’t push this [fire] back now, we need [wind] from the east.’ As soon as I said that, it started blowing from the east a little bit. Then I got louder and [the wind] got stronger. Then I got louder again and it got stronger again …

“I felt it change. I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger [the wind got]. I was yelling, ‘In Jesus’ name, thank you Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!’

“It was desperation personified. I did not care who heard me. I knew then that God was then doing what I was asking. Because if he didn’t answer then, we were dead.”

Noting that no easterly was forecast, Jeffery continues: “What God did was push [the fire] back from the east, which was impossible but he did it. He did that for five minutes, which broke [the fire front] enough to stop it from getting to where we were.”

“You could see these intense flames. It was unstoppable. Wisely, the fireys weren’t even attempting to put it out … Then I heard God say to me, ‘pray’.” – David Jeffery

Afterwards, as the smoke started to clear, the crowd at the wharf listened in horror as properties were consumed by fire and gas cylinders exploded.

“It was heart-sickening. You could see these intense flames. It was unstoppable. Wisely, the fireys weren’t even attempting to put it out.

“The fire wall was getting closer and closer to my house. We were about to lose everything. I could actually hear locals saying ‘that’s the Wave Oasis going up.’

Jeffery says he was far more concerned about his neighbours, who had remained to defend their home, rather than his own property.

“Then I heard God say to me, ‘pray’. I started off with a pathetic little prayer … Then within me, this faith rose up and said ‘who are you praying to?’ And I thought, ‘Yes! You’re the God of the Bible. Nothing’s impossible with you!

“This was so impossible, but somehow God turned off the flames, like flicking off a switch.” – David Jeffery

“This was so impossible, but somehow God turned off the flames, like flicking off a switch. All the fuel was still there – the houses were still there, the grass was there.

“My neighbours – who are not Christians – were eyewitnesses and they tell me ‘God saved us’. They thought they were going to be annihilated because that fireball was coming straight at them. But the whole of Vista Drive [their street] got spared and the bush around us got spared. Hot embers went into the dry, long grass, big bits of bark and trees, but where we were praying for, right there, it was all spared …

“There were no burn marks. There is honestly not a blade of grass singed.”

“They’ve seen miracles. They’ve seen the supernatural – flames getting pushed back, they’ve seen the embers hit the grass and not burn, without even a singe mark.” – David Jeffery

Today, Jeffery is certainly not shying away from talking about God with neighbours in Mallacoota.

Standing alongside his neighbour Chris, who often walks his dog past Jeffery’s property, Jeffery says: “Chris and I have been talking about little things to do with Jesus for the past couple of years, but now we’re talking big things.” Jeffery has in fact spent the morning “explaining what it means to be a disciple of Christ”.

Referring to other neighbours too, Jeffery continues, “They all feel like the prayers saved them … They’ve seen miracles. They’ve seen the supernatural – flames getting pushed back, they’ve seen the embers hit the grass and not burn, without even a singe mark.

“That’s literally Bible stuff – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [who were spared from the ‘fiery furnace’ in the biblical book of Daniel] … We are in awe of what God’s doing.”

David Jeffrey at his Mallacoota property which miraculously escaped the flames.

David Jeffery at his Mallacoota property which escaped the flames.

Jeffery describes their “miraculous” escape as “a mercy, because, honestly, I know the alternative eternity that Jesus talked about and he doesn’t want anyone to go there.” He is hopeful this situation could serve as “a wake-up call” that “helps people realise that there is a God and he does love them, that the only safe place is behind that cross.”

In addition to talking with neighbours, Jeffery is now opening his property to feed and house police and other emergency services personnel. “Not only did this building not burn to the ground, but now it’s getting used in unbelievable circumstances,” he says. “This building [provides] an opportunity now for love to flow – that’s what I see it as.”

Out of this experience, Jeffery is determined to ensure that all the glory goes to God. He also feels compelled to offer this warning and encouragement to Eternity readers and those beyond: “It’s time for people to rise up and pray. It’s time to get serious about God and get back into reading his word.”

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Some prayer points to help

These prayer requests are provided by Ken Spackman, CEO of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, who is currently in Mallacoota, where the massive impact of the bushfires is far from over:

  • Give thanks to God for continued safety and for rain for those traumatised by fire and smoke.
  • Pray for clear skies to facilitate the hundreds still needing evacuation from Mallacoota.
  • Pray for safety for road-clearing gangs trying to provide safe passage for those cut off by fires and fire damage.
  • Pray for comfort for those who continue to be isolated in communities cut off by fire.
  • Pray for comfort for those who have lost everything, and give thanks for their continued work and service to community despite their grief and loss. Pray that they will find support and comfort when they rest and take stock of all that they have lost.
  • Pray for emergency services and personnel supporting the community, that they would find strength, resilience and rest while they care for others ahead of self.
  • Pray for residents across East Gippsland and other regions of Australia who have lost livelihoods and summer income, that they would be supported through the long recovery that they face.
  • Pray that amidst suffering in the faces of all that we meet we would see and reflect Christ and despite our circumstances, be His example to those that we serve.
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