Fleeing Eden: Local church or Noah’s ark?

Vicki Telfer and her mother, Norma Allen.

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We weren’t going to evacuate originally. But when the warning came through that they couldn’t guarantee Eden could be saved, we thought that was too scary for us to deal with.”

Vicki Telfer and her mother, Norma Allen, live in Eden on the south coast of New South Wales. But when the bushfires were threatening their town, the pair decided to leave for the relative safety of Bega, the closest accommodation centre that would accept pets.

“We made the house as good as we could, and then we left,” says Vicki. After grabbing their important documents, some family photos, a wooden echidna keepsake, their beloved dog Ted and a few groceries, they began the drive to the evacuation centre in Bega.

When they arrived at the showground, they joined more than 2000 people and their dogs, all seeking shelter from the bushfires.

“It was really hot in the hall and it was a bit scary for Ted and for us too because there were a lot of people there, some very distressed people,” says Vicki.

Even with an airbed, Norma, who is in her 90s, opted to sleep in the car for fear she wouldn’t be able to get back up off the ground again.

“We had not much sleep that night,” Vicki says. “It was so uncomfortable and hot in that pavilion. And the next day was the hideous Saturday. We were planning to do the same thing, but we didn’t quite know how we were going to manage it. That Saturday, the sky was so red.”

At the same time on that 43-degree Saturday, a team of members from Bega Seventh-day Adventist Church made the decision to open their church as an overflow for the overwhelmed accommodation centre nearby.

“We just knew that we had an air-conditioned building, it was hot, and so we opened our doors,” says Bega member Kylie Ward (pictured below). It was then that Bega church partnered with ADRA and received funding to maintain what has been a relatively large operation.

Vicki and Norma were the first two to come across to the Bega church hall. Their relief was instant. Apart from the air-conditioning, the thing that stuck out the most to Vicki and Norma was the personable and caring response.

“Oh, it was wonderful, just so wonderful,” says Vicki. “I remember well Kylie wanting to feed everybody chocolate Bavarian, which was so lovely. Really nurturing and comforting.”

“That kindness and compassion and love, just like your ADRA shirts say,” Norma says. “It felt very much heartfelt, very much nurtured. And we felt very cared for.”

For Kylie, it was an opportunity to not only help out a community in need, but to also show God’s love through the actions of the church and ADRA. “By that afternoon we had 35 people and 15 dogs,” Kylie says. “It was just amazing. It was church like you’ve never seen before.”

Vicki and Norma stayed in the Bega Church hall for two nights before securing a motel room. But, before they could get settled, they received word from their neighbours that it was safe to return home.

The activities at Bega are one example of the many ways that ADRA, through the network of Seventh-day Adventist churches, has been able to respond to the bushfires plaguing Australia. Sabbath, February 15 is ADRA’s Disaster, Famine and Relief Offering. The money from this offering ensures that ADRA can stay ready to help people in times of disasters both in Australia and overseas. Visit adra.org.au/respond for more information about this important offering.

Ashley Stanton is media and communications coordinator for ADRA Australia.

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