Arnie Wierenga and Jennie Gordon are Chaplains in the Presbytery of Gippsland. Two incredibly kind hearted people who worked to support Frontier Services Bush Chaplain Rowena Harris during the bushfire earlier this year. Arnie and Jennie have been there for our remote communities at a time when hearts are broken and morale is low.
As extraordinary bushfires swept across Australia, tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes. By the end of the first week of January, more than 8.4 million hectares burnt and 1,500 homes were destroyed. It only got worse from there.
The Church, ministers, chaplains and Frontier Services played a key role in caring for communities that were torn apart.
In February, Arnie and Jennie received bushfire emergency support funding from Frontier Services for relief chaplaincy for the bushfire affected communities of the Swift Creek Area but tragically COVID-19 hit and the assistance had to be placed on hold.
“The hardest part was knowing that people needed our help but that we weren’t able to go out and support them physically due to COVID-19 restrictions,” said Arnie.
However since July 1, Arnie and Jennie have been starting their chaplaincy with the bushfire affected communities. This is made possible by our generous Frontier Services donors. In a time as tragic as this, where people have lost everything, it is humanity that is able to get us through.
“Our biggest struggle was that we couldn’t get into the bushfire communities earlier this year due to COVID-19 to use the amazing funding provided by Frontier Services,” said Jennie, “but since July we have been slowly able to provide much needed support by going out to comfort farmers most in need.”
“Some in our communities have experienced it all, droughts, bushfires and now COVID-19,” said Jennie.
“It’s what we call interrupted grief. No one has been able to grieve properly as COVID-19 hit at the worst possible moment,” said Jennie’s husband Arnie.
Complete farm land has been lost to the fire, businesses burnt to the ground and some homes are now nothing but a memory.
“We couldn’t wait to begin our chaplaincy and have a cup of tea with those who have been in the darkest place of their life. We are there to have a chat and support in any way needed,” said Jennie.
“We have been collecting the stories of the community. Our job is to listen and support.” COVID-19 has meant that people can’t begin to heal and can’t begin to rebuild communities. At a time when we all thought things couldn’t get any worse, it did.
“We are just happy that we can finally start helping the community to begin their healing process,” said Jennie and Arnie, “thanks to the wonderful people who donate to and support Frontier Services.”
This article is adapted from the August 2020 edition of Frontier News.