In the event you haven’t been following the story of the fires devouring thousands of acres in Australia, I’d like to share with you an email we received from Cate, an eye-witness whose family lost everything–their home, their family’s farm and, tragically, their provider: Dad. I share her story because the need for prayer for our friends in the southern state of Victoria, Australia is indeed great.
In short, the deadly firestorm consumed more than 1,800 homes and claimed the lives of at least 209 people thus far. More than 7,500 people have been displaced by the fires–the longest of which was a 60-mile-long fire front. Entire towns and villages have been razed by the blaze. Whipped into a frenzy by high winds and drought-like conditions, the fire is the worst natural disaster to hit Australia in more than 100 years. What’s more, the 3,500 courageous firefighters who have been battling the flames for two weeks just learned that strong winds and soaring temperatures appear to be driving fresh flames towards a number of towns east of Melbourne. In the midst of the rubble and bad news, here’s a story of bravery and courage and unconditional love exhibited by a father who laid his life down to save those whom he didn’t even know. Here, then, is a first-hand account as told by Cate:
Hi there, My family (Mum, Dad, myself and my three little sisters) lived in the small town in Victoria.
There were warnings that bushfires were 5 kilometers away and we were getting ready to evacuate. We had grabbed the family photos, important documents, blankets for the night in the evacuation centre and some extra clothes but just as we were about to leave the fire came surging over the hill north of our property. We all scrambled for the car and sped off along the south road from our property. My two youngest sisters were crying and screaming about the pets my dad forced them to leave behind. Mum and I were trying to calm them down and praying God would spare our house. But just as we turned around the next corner we saw fire coming up on the south of our property. We were being closed in on both sides. We all began to panic but Dad said nothing and turned the car around and started heading towards the dam, there wasn’t enough time to take any other route out.
We got to the dam, by this time we were coughing really badly and sky was black with smoke. Dad made us all get in the water, he grabbed the blankets and wet them and we all started to swim out to the raft anchored in the middle of the dam. We could see the fire coming and started to feel the heat. My parents and I dragged my sisters through the water because they were too distraught to swim properly. Finally we climbed on the raft, we lay there with the wet blankets on top of us. The plan was that when the fire came we would all slide off the raft into the water with the blankets over our heads and tread water until it passed around the dam. My dad kept looking out the side of blanket to see how close it was. He could see headlights in the distance through the smoke and realized that our neighbors were also driving to our dam. He said he had to go and help despite our pleas. He said he’d be back in a few minutes and jumped off the raft swam to the edge and got into the truck and started out towards the lights. That is the last we ever saw of him. We don’t know what happened … we know they didn’t make it. Him and our neighboring family of 5 were caught in the fire 1/2 a km from the dam.
The fire came and we slid off the raft into the water, the smoke and heat were incredible and but the wet blankets were amazing in keeping the air breathable and the heat manageable. While we tread water we all cried, we all knew Dad hadn’t made it, there was no way. In all honesty I didn’t feel like treading water, this was a nightmare and I could have easily just let myself slip away. I know that sounds selfish because I was there with my mum and sisters but that’s the way it was. The fire passed. We survived and climbed back onto the raft, we didn’t know what to do next we couldn’t go back to shore because the ground was too hot. So we just sat in silence, holding each other.
After a while my youngest sister started to ask questions ‘Do you think the dog is alright? Do you think our house is ok?’ All my mum said was ‘Sweethearts, it is well with our souls and that’s all that matters’ I’m sure she was saying that to herself as much as she was saying it to us. We were rescued half an hour later by the Fire Service and taken to a shelter. That night at the shelter is a story in itself. The death toll stands at 181 and still climbing. We are now staying at my Aunt’s house 3 hours away. The amount of support is incredible but nothing replaces the horrific memories and my sisters have nightmares every night. We are left wondering what is next. What is the point of rebuilding if my Dad is gone and can’t farm and support us? Where do we go? Most of our friends are dead, half our church is dead, what life do we have left? Do we sell? and if so will we make enough money to pay out our mortgage, who wants to buy black burnt piece of land?
Everyday is a battle to see God’s faithfulness and righteousness above the loss we have experienced. I’m not quite there yet, I’m angry, confused and bitter. We all miss Dad, he was quiet but strong man who loved the Lord. He put his family first and lead us with incredible wisdom, he saved or lives that night and died trying to save more. There should be some comfort in that but I haven’t found it yet, I wish he was selfish and had of just stayed with us. If he were here to lead us now things would feel that much more secure but he’s not and I feel abandoned, everything secure and familiar is gone. I am immensely thankful for my family but even that feel different right now. I am reminded of the Gaither song Because He Lives. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living, Just because He lives. – Cate
Cate’s father is a hero, a brave man who thought nothing of his own safety but, instead, served both his family and fellow countrymen. As Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In that spirit of sacrificial giving, Cate’s father brought honor to the Lord by modeling a life of godly service.
I am moved to tears over the pain that Cate, her family, and thousands of families are experiencing right now in Australia. I was just in Australia not far from where these events are taking place and it breaks my heart to know that so many people have lost everything, including their loved ones.
My prayers are with them.
Will you join me by pausing to pray for this nation in crisis?