The deadly Batlow bushfire raged through Mishtalem in January 2020. Mishtalem is the rural retreat my daughter and I had spent two years developing. The inferno destroyed all buildings and belongings, fences, irrigation and half the apple orchard. We only saved our 30 animals.
Caleb Lawman, church member and RFS firefighter, was delegated to phone me at our evacuation accommodation to tell me I’d lost everything. I collapsed onto the motel bed. And into that numb terrible silence I heard a whisper, I suppose from an angel, “Wait and see that the Lord is good!” I did not feel courage or hope but I clung to that challenge in the bleak impossible days ahead. Could my faith survive the trauma? Could it believe God’s good intentions towards me? Could it rebuff the temptation to feel that He’d abandoned me in that dark day of losing everything?
God displayed His faithfulness through human hands and hearts. My pastor’s wife activated the ADRA emergency funding while we were still staying in evacuation accommodation. My local church in Tumut, a small country church, sent us money. Church members two hours south who we had never met lent us their precious little caravan. Pastor Justin Lawman roared up the track in his gutsy 4WD. He strode through our black charred remains, surveying the devastated bush and blackened paddocks. He declared, “What you need to go on with is a rural shed 10m by 6m.” By the end of that week he had fundraised at his church in Canberra, and the shed was ordered!
Two weeks later, on March 1, 35 Canberra church people converged and put the shed up in just one day. Twelve hours construction plus seven hours driving, God bless them! Shelter is an amazing gift. Then Ian Gilroy from Tumut church applied his skills to outfitting a large room in the shed as a living quarters.
After we lost everything, other denominations and agencies have helped us get back on our feet, with funds and volunteering days. But the most precious and the most comforting was that early help from Adventists.
As I pause to take a breather from the relentless demands of rebuilding a farm from the burnt ground up, I can reflect. Tonight I ache all over from chainsawing a huge burnt log to make way for my replacement machinery shed. I sit by an encouraging warm fire blazing brightly in the wood firebox which the Canberra men salvaged from the fire demolition site. This winter I can be thankful for the fire in the firebox instead of being retraumatised by it—fear welled up inside me every winter’s night last year.
My faith can now affirm that Adonai did not abandon me, that He is building this retreat with His own resources and trusty volunteers, to welcome young people, sustainable-living enthusiasts, Straight 2 the Heart discipleship trainees, refugees and wounded ones to meet Him here and, right on target, experience His faithfulness!
Stephenie Bailey is an Adventist church-member orchardist who lives with her daughter Shaya, at Batlow, SNSW.