We Didn’t Start the Fire

On New Year’s Eve our family were enjoying an evening at home with our good friends on the Central Coast of NSW.  It had already been a very stressful end to the year with bushfires raging across our state as well as interstate near family and friends.  One of the biggest fires, the Gospers Mountain blaze had some of our school families on high alert for more than a month.  I remember getting an alert on my phone from our Fires Near Us app and seeing that a blaze was burning out of control near two of our main student populations suburbs.  Our friends quickly said goodbye and went the long way home to avoid the fire, but knowing it was only a kilometer or so from their home.  Fortunately the fire only burnt out about 400 hectares and no homes were destroyed. 

When school finally went back at the end of January it was an incredibly subdued experience.  Our staff and students had stories to tell.  Evacuations, family holidays cancelled, friends fighting blazes on their properties and even friends losing their lives.  It was as though the school holidays didn’t even happen.  Ironically, early in the term it rained so much that we experienced localized flooding.  One should never ask “what next” as now we are all living with the growing impacts of COVID-19.

One of the stories that has stuck with our school community from the summer is that of one of our teachers, Mr Hampson.  He is friends with one of the Wyoming (NSW) Fire and Rescue Unit members who was caught up in a firestorm near Nowra.  These guys had gone to the south coast of NSW to help fight the fires when their truck was over-run by a firestorm.  You can see footage here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUuG9f2gL5Q of what they went through.  When Mr Hampson was talking with his friend Danny, it became evident that the devastation and loss was incredibly difficult to comprehend.  Danny had hoped that he and his crew would be able to go back to where they had fought the fires near Nowra and take with them some care packages for the residents who had lost everything but he didn’t know how to go about making that happen.

This is where I am reminded why I love working in an Anglican school.  Our teacher, Mr Hampson, said to Danny, “Well I know how to help!” 

So a plan was hatched and our school community mobilized.  Quite simply, we showed our students the clip of the blaze and told something of their story.  We then had a free dress day (in NSW we call them Mufti days) and the price was groceries.  The response was overwhelming.  Our staff and students had been to the shops and gave generously to not only help those residents affected but also to honour the firefighters request.

A week after the collection we had a special assembly (last one allowed actually) where members of the Wyoming crew came and shared in person their experience.  Students could ask questions and then help load the utes and trailer with the groceries.  It was an amazing time of deep connection that had been born out of disaster.  It was a resurrection story.  Every day when I drive to school, I go past the burnt-out area from New Year’s Eve and can see the bush getting greener and greener as it recovers.  It reminds me of how we follow our resurrected saviour who calls us to be bearers of hope.  It was our privilege as a school to work with these firies in this simple way, offering hope to people we haven’t even met and hopefully helping the firefighters to move past some of the trauma they lived through.

In this new season of COVID-19 I think stories like this can encourage us all to be creative in how we are community.  Fires, floods and diseases may come against us and each of them has unpredictable elements to them.  What never changes is God’s insistent call for us to be people who share his abundant love in this world.  It isn’t complicated, but it is necessary.  My prayer for us all in Anglican Schools is that we don’t forget the one who conquered death and offers us an eternal hope no matter the circumstances.  Paul’s words in Romans 8:18 are a timely reminder; “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

This article was originally written for the May 2020 edition of the Anglican Schools Australia newsletter and I thank the editor for kindly allowing me to reproduce it here.

Matt Shorten Written by:

Reverend Matt Shorten is a follower of Jesus, husband of 25 years, father of 3 teenage girls, and a fan of Liverpool FC. He is in his 15th year as chaplain to Lakes Grammar and currently chairs the ASA Chaplain’s Consultative Committee. Chaplaincy in an Anglican school – best gig in the world!

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