Greetings to our dear church family in the churches of Lismore Regional Mission. As I write it has been fully six weeks since Thea and I took our leave from you to head back south to our little place just outside Berry on the South Coast.
You have been on our hearts and in our prayers ever since as we have tried to work out ways in which we can support you in your love, faith and mission. Coming back physically, at this stage, seems to be out of the question – for the world has changed dramatically in that short period – hasn’t it? Social distancing, quarantining, an uncontrolled virus and an economic collapse have meant that we all need to find new and creative ways of being the church.
I have spoken with Rev. Bill Fischer, Rev. Elaine, Barry, Alan and John about helping out LRM. I’ll be ringing folks from time to time and hopefully putting written and video resources together to support you in your worship and life [something I know Rev Elaine is already considering].
At this difficult time we should all take the words of Psalm 46 into our soul and our spirit and remember that God says not only ‘Be Still and know that I am God’ (verse 10) but that the psalm begins and ends with an invocation to trust in God and find our refuge in him.
These are the words that open the psalm. ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.’
We are strong because we can acknowledge our weakness and know ‘that fear of the Lord’ is not the same as ‘fear of the circumstances’.
Today, I just wanted to report some good news. We want you to know that you blessed Thea and I when we were physically amongst you. You have continued to do that for us in our absence and you have blessed many others on the South Coast, even though you may not have realised it.
On our last day in Lismore, we received gifts of chocolates (that’s the way to Robert’s heart), flowers (that’s the way to Thea’s heart) and an envelope which we subsequently discovered contained $500 in notes. Our first reaction was to find a way to hand it back, but how to you reject a gift from the giver, whatever the gift. We were humbled by the generosity of folks many of who we know struggle to balance budgets and stretch resources.
So we decided to accept the blessing and to bless others.
About two weeks ago we had a few days in our caravan down at Bateman’s Bay. The South Coast, like the North Coast, was devastated by fires especially just before the New Year.
Little hamlets such as Nerrigundah have almost completely disappeared, Mogo lost a number of houses, churches and businesses right in the centre of town, Cobargo lost lives and places of gatherings and Conjola lost the many homes and the holiday season on which the community relied heavily. And so the list goes on. In between the blackened stumps and fences and corrugated iron, the trees were springing new growth and the hills were green. We noted the absence of birdlife and animals and many places were eerily quiet.
However, we found people in the communities and retirees, campervan owners and tourists were (as had been requested) frequenting the remaining cafes, businesses and sanctuaries that remained (including Mogo Zoo with its amazing stories of struggle and sacrifice). In Cobargo, armed with ten envelopes that were simply addressed with ‘A Gift from the Lismore Regional Mission Uniting Church’, we were able to donate to the Rural Fire Brigade (who lost two of their team to the fires – a father and son) and we located an ex-Uniting Chaplain who, with her partner, had defended not only their property but saved the local Catholic church next door. She was also providing free lodging to some folks from Bermagui, so we were able to hand over some more envelopes. We then went to Bega and found another friend who was working as a Disaster Recovery Chaplain and we gave him the remaining envelopes to distribute. The last of these will be handed out to fire affected folks in the Lake Conjola area over Easter.
And how right it is that when we think of Easter – which initially was about death and grief – but ended up with new life and hope rising from the ashes on Easter Sunday.
Please continue to touch the world with compassion and love through your generosity. Thank you
Hope to catch up soon.
May God keep you in his warm and comforting embrace,
You are in our hearts.
Rev. Rob and Thea