The disaster relief team of Samaritan's Purse is bringing hope to Australians as raging bushfires have taken at least 25 lives, destroyed 1,500 homes, and consumed 15 million acres across the nation's 131 regions.
Volunteers affiliated with the U.S.-based ministry that serves the needs of natural disaster victims around the globe are helping homeowners hit hard by the devastating wildfires Down Under.
There for the long haul
Since the first week the fires broke out in September, the Samaritan's Purse Australia disaster relief team has been helping and supporting communities, starting in Stanthorpe and the Beau Desert in Australia's northeastern province of Queensland.
Dave Ingram, executive director of Samaritan's Purse Australia/New Zealand, is encouraged by the flood of volunteers who have been eager to help their fellow countrymen in Jesus' name.
"We have had a team on the ground for the past three months, helping families affected by the bushfires in Queensland, and most recently in New South Wales," Ingram shares, according to Samaritan's Purse's website. "We're grateful to all our Samaritan's Purse volunteers who have undertaken the huge task of assisting homeowners [to] clear properties and to start the journey of rebuilding their lives."
As the fires continue to spread, more help from abroad is on its way, as Samaritan's Purse Canada – which specializes in cleanup and debris management, as well as in helping families recover items lost in fires – is bringing its long list of experience to the table, including assisting nearly 500 families in the 2016 Fork McMurray, Alberta, wildfire.
Samaritan's Purse Canada project director Brent Davis understands the depth of tragedy that fires of this magnitude can bring, and he and his team are ready to share that burden with Aussies affected by the ever-spreading conflagrations, as heat, winds and dry conditions continue to feed into the problem.
"We know the level of devastation wildfires bring," Davis shares. "Our hearts break as we see their impact across Australia."
With the states of Victoria and New South Wales being declared states of emergency, some communities have already been ravaged by the flames and many of those residents have been allowed to return to the ruins that they once called home.
This was the case for one homeowner from the Killabahk community in New South Wales, who returned to her fire-ravaged home to find the blessing of Samaritan's Purse volunteering its services and helping her and others clear debris, shovel ash and chop up fallen trees.
"We had no idea where to start," the devastated Killabahk resident admitted before Samaritan's Purse volunteers and chaplains showed up and prayed with her before beginning their cleanup effort. "There are no words that describe the gratitude and comfort of knowing that we don't have to do this on our own."
With temperatures reaching up to 120 degrees in New South Wales – the nation's most densely populated region, which includes Sydney – Australians are still bracing for the worst, and the situation isn't any better in Victoria.
"The situation is so bad in Mallacoota – a coastal town in the state of Victoria – that about 4,000 people fled to the beach for safety earlier this week," Samaritan's Purse reports. "The Australian military evacuated about 1,000 individuals on Friday. The economic impact on the nation is serious; insurance claims from the fires already total close to $200 million."
But the spirits of Diane and Archie Mitchell – residents of Stanthorpe, Queensland – were lifted even though they returned to find their recently renovated home in shambles after being forced to evacuate.
"It was horrendous, frightening, devastating to come home, but by the same token, we tried to stay positive," Diane told Samaritan's Purse, which helped her and her husband clear debris while sharing God's love with them in Jesus' name. "I couldn't tell you how uplifting it was for us. My husband went down and joined in… It was really beautiful."
Besides manual labor and spiritual support, the ministry provided some tangible assistance for the Mitchells, as well.
"Diane and Archie also received a Samaritan's Purse fire recovery kit, which contains personal protective equipment, a shovel, hammer and other tools," the ministry report noted. "This kit included items the Mitchells had lost in the fire, and aided them in clearing the property and finding salvageable items."
The Associated Press reports that the blazes have scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland and killed hundreds of millions of animals and birds. The fires are expected to flare up later this week when temperatures rise.