As bushfires were looming, a local church opened to displaced people and their pets.
Published on: 02-11-2020
“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 center that would accept pets.
“We made the house as good as we could, and then we left,” Vicki said. 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 center in Bega.
When they arrived at the showground, the two women joined more than 2,000 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,” Vicki said.
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 said. “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 109 °F (43 Celsius) Saturday, a team of members from Bega Seventh-day Adventist Church decided to open their church as an overflow for the overwhelmed accommodation center nearby.
“We just knew that we had an air-conditioned building, it was hot, and so we opened our doors,” said Bega member Kylie Ward. It was then that Bega church partnered with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (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,” Vicki said. “I remember 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 said. “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 also to show God’s love through the actions of the church and ADRA. “By that afternoon, we had 35 people and 15 dogs,” Kylie said. “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. Before they could get settled in the motel, however, they received word from their neighbors — it was safe to return home.