By Josh Gibbon
What would be the first thing you would do upon waking up to your town in shambles after a flood?
As today dawned in Lismore, Disaster Chaplain Ian Phillips chose to be still, have a coffee, and spend time in prayer before facing the devastation around him.
Despite the urgency he felt to get into the work of recovery, Ian noticed the Spirit prompting him to take a different posture.
“During an emergency there’s an urgency in everything,” Ian said. “To pause is to push against your instincts to get up and get out. There’s a lot of that drive going on. But to pull back and just say, ‘Jesus, you’re in this, and I rely on you in that.’ You do that at the start of the day, and you’ve got to do that a few more times during the day.
“You don’t know what’s going to come in this day. I think it comes back to … Jesus is with us. So, we trust him for the conversation, for the manual labour, for the PPE gear. Whatever may come, Lord be with us. That is my prayer now.”
As Ian drove through the streets of Lismore this morning, surveying the damage and meeting people, the belongings of his community lay strewn along the road.
“It’s a war zone – the amount of debris,” he said. “All along the main streets in Lismore, there’s just debris piled up all over the place. Piles and piles of debris.”
Most people in Lismore prepared for the water to reach similar levels to the last flood in 2017. As the rain worsened on the weekend, people moved their household belongings and their business stock above the previous flood line. Sadly, this week’s flood rose two metres higher than anyone anticipated.
“Almost everyone in the CBD area has lost everything,” Ian said.
As the rain intensified last Sunday night, Ian and the team from The Winsome [a community support centre with medium-term housing relief] felt they should prepare the property for the worst.
They evacuated the building’s residents to the Church of Christ hall on higher ground in Goonellabah and moved as much as they could from the ground floor to the second storey. However, many others waited till morning, which was too late.
“Earlier predictions were that the flood would peak at 6am,” Ian said. “Well, the levee breached much earlier – halfway through the night. All these people went to bed thinking we’ll get up early and see what it’s like, but the evacuation orders came while many were sleeping.”
Since Sunday, Ian and some volunteers have been camping in the old Church of Christ building with The Winsome residents. A family is sleeping in the boxing ring of the Gospel Gloves ministry and Winsome residents in the hall are using leftover rubber from the gym as makeshift beds.
Ian and the team are holding off recovery work at The Winsome until they can get proper PPE gear to protect volunteers. However, from what they can tell, they’ve lost everything on the ground floor.
Ian noted he’s been deeply moved by the community spirit he’s witnessed in Lismore this week, as he’s seen emergency services, other churches, and the general community rally together.
Ian spoke about a neighbour who called the SES to open up a house roof after hearing banging from inside, afraid his neighbours may be trapped. It turned out to be a false alarm, and no one was inside.
When the resident returned, they laughed together, and he said, “Thank you, mate. If I had been trapped in that roof, I am pleased you made the phone call even if I wasn’t!”
Ian says he sees his and the church’s responsibility today to be partners in the community and to walk with people in their work, loss, and grief.
“Churches exist in communities. We are partners in these communities. Irrespective of whether people have faith. As partners, this is what we do. This is where the love of Christ shines.
“I see the love of Christ expressed in a whole heap of people who don’t know Jesus yet. I know that some people would want to shake an angry fist at the clouds, but I just see Jesus walking with us. He cries with us in our loss.”
Funds raised from the Global Mission Partners Flood Appeal will go to local churches and ministries to purchase supplies and resources they need.