We survived the bushfires – and then COVID-19 hit

Chrissy Guinery lives in Batemans Bay, New South Wales. Only a few months ago, Chrissy, her family and local community were consumed by the intense bushfires which devastated so much of Australia. In a new book released this week, When The Smoke Clears: Surviving the Australian bushfires, Chrissy discusses how her faith in Jesus has led her to champion the voice of bushfire victims. As she explains for Eternity, the need to do this has become even more vital under the impact of COVID-19.

The bushfire disaster across December 2019 to February 2020 was one of the toughest things our community has experienced.

But I believe that, as Christians, we can be enabled by God to offer comfort, to love and to help others. God’s love in us is so potent that it brings the dead to life.

This was my own experience when, as a mean, lost, angry girl of 20 with suicidal thoughts, God spoke to me on the floor of a motel room through a Bible placed there by Gideons.

A voice said to me, ‘This isn’t the end of your life, Chrissy, this is the beginning.’ In that moment, I knew God had spoken to me and was offering me another chance at living. This time, I would really live. After he saved my life, God began to shine out from within me in loving, kind and beautiful ways that had not been part of my personality before.

After the bushfires ravaged our towns, I noticed how God blessed me and many of my close friends and family with gifts of kindness, encouragement and service beyond what we had experienced before.

We were ‘kicked in the guts’ while we were down.

It seemed contagious – our whole community had kindness being poured out liberally, almost everywhere. Despite the hundreds of lost homes and businesses, new life was emerging from the ashes. People found comfort and strength as part of a caring, generous community. Something beautiful was taking place as everyone reached out to help and heal. It was natural to share God’s love as part of this.

Right when it seemed this could become our new way of life, we were ‘kicked in the guts’ while we were down. COVID-19 struck the world.

In the fear that surrounded the onset of COVID-19 – and the isolation restrictions that followed – we all found ourselves separated and locked behind closed doors. Alone. Isolated. Many of our fire victims were still in the houses of strangers or in tents and caravans, with nowhere to call home. They still remain in this grim situation.

Darkness, depression and loneliness grew in already troubled, hurting hearts. Our people needed help. I knew our community was crumbling and it was breaking my heart. Like other Christians, we wanted to be among the people!

I wanted the volunteers who were helping rebuild to come back. I wanted our small, struggling businesses to be given a chance to bring some income to a community that had been isolated and ‘closed’ during the raging fires of our summer.

Throughout the past month, I feel like God has put a new fire in my belly preparing me to get out and love people with his healing touch. Such a desire spurred me to launch When The Smoke Clears: Surviving the Australian Bushfires.

I always believed writing such a book could be an important validation of the voices and experiences of bushfire victims, but I had no idea how desperately needed this would be because of the added impact of COVID-19.

Looking around at my friends, business owners and families in our struggling towns, I feel that isolation was possibly the worst thing that could have followed our harrowing, life-shattering months of fire devastation.

This is a desperate and crucial time for our community …

We were a community beginning to heal and we needed one another to do that. Linking arms together, our community was helping, caring generous and collectively empathetic towards one another in a deep, meaningful way.

Yet isolation intervened. The fear and hype around, for example, desperately needing toilet paper, overtook us. The pain of nobody being able to reach out to help – or for help – changed us.

We were barely out of the ashes when people were forced to struggle alone. And many, many people here are not coping. That’s an understatement.

Without the love and miraculous healing of God, some will not have the strength to rise. This is a desperate and crucial time for our community, and those of us who carry God’s love are keen to share it around with glittering waterfalls of light and life!

Physical touch and sharing stories over cuppas (or a beer) are essential elements to community. We were created to be community. One of the first things God proclaimed in the Garden of Eden was that ‘it is not good for man to be alone.’

Togetherness and hugs and helping hands must be restored if we are to rise … as work slowly starts again to clear blocks of land that were once magnificent happy homes, now reduced to rubble.

Tradies can come back to rebuild homes and bring life back into a community whose families lost more than 500 homes; 79 per cent of our community’s land was destroyed by ravaging fire.

I hope When The Smoke Clears is an aid to getting back to the divine art of loving. Where with no questions asked and no judgment cast, we help one another into the beauty of hearts beating with the rhythm of hope again.

Author and motivational speaker Chrissy Guinery is all about empowering others. Her previous books include Falling Up Stairs (2016) and Room to Breathe (2018).

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