To help our readers get a clearer idea of the situation for fire-affected churches and communities on the South-East coast, we spoke to Jodie McNeill, Senior Minister at Jamberoo Anglican minister, and volunteer firefighter, about what has been happening in the Illawarra.

TGCA: Jodie, could you give us a quick overview of your parish and how it has been affected by the fires.

My church is in Jamberoo, which is located on the South Coast of NSW, inland from Kiama, between Wollongong and Nowra.

We’re a rural community, fifteen minutes from some of Australia’s best surfing beaches … and we’re surrounded by a huge escarpment of dry, bush that has escaped substantial fire for over half a century.

For that reason, we’re all feeling a bit nervous about the real possibility of our valley and village being attacked by bushfire.

On Saturday night, the closest firefront came within 30kms of our village, and we started to get very nervous.

In fact, some of my parishioners packed up their belongings and waited to be told to evacuate … as did we!

TGCA: What has your church and its people been doing to respond to the crisis?

We’ve certainly been praying about the crisis, asking God to mercifully spare the Illawarra from fire, as he has to this moment.

At the same time, we’ve been providing some meals and food to some of the RFS firies as they’ve been on duty in our local brigade station, and more generally, getting behind the other local initiatives to offer practical support.

TGCA: I understand that you have been out fighting fires yourself—what has that been like?

On Sunday I was on a crew in an Illawarra Strike Team to help protect life and property up at Bundanoon and Wingello, in the Southern Highlands of NSW, around an hour’s drive away.

They were heavily impacted by a ferocious firestorm that hit late on Saturday night, bringing devastation to homes and other structures.

My crew’s first mission was to get ready to defend houses against the oncoming firefront, which we patiently waited to arrive through the dense smoke.

As I stood before these deserted homes holding a charged hose, I was reminded again of how the works of our hands are so fragile, even when made out of bricks and steel.

As I stood before these deserted homes holding a charged hose, I was reminded again of how the works of our hands are so fragile, even when made out of bricks and steel.

And, to be honest, I was also a bit scared myself, as this was the first time since I joined the RFS that I was going to directly face a firefront like this.

Later in the day, we saw many other homes that had been destroyed, and I, personally, sprayed thousands of litres of water from a hose onto the contents of an unknown person’s shed.

It is a messy and sobering experience to be hosing down the smouldering ashes of a person’s possessions … and a fresh reminder of how everything we own can so easily be destroyed.

TGCA: What have you been saying in sermons and conversations to encourage the people of Jamberoo?

Well, on the one hand, I’ve been telling people that the fires are a fresh reminder that every material possession will ultimately be destroyed, and that we must appreciate the urgency of bringing the gospel to the world that doesn’t know Jesus.

As I’ve led our congregation in prayer for the many people who have lost homes and even the lives of loved ones, I’ve asked the Lord to bring comfort and protection to all who are hurting and suffering at this time.

But above all, my prayer has been that through this fire disaster, people would know the depths of the love of Jesus, and that there would be many more opportunities for everyone to tell others about Jesus.

And that’s what I ask people to pray for me as I head out on a truck to fight fires with the RFS: I ask people to pray for my safety, but above all, that I’ll have many opportunities to talk about Jesus.

TGCA: What has been sustaining you personally?

When I went out this week to fight fires I posted a prayer request on Facebook, and was overwhelmed with the response.

Apart from many local friends, I had people from Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand saying that they were praying for me, with their church.

As the prayer emojis filled up my Facebook feed, I knew that many brothers and sisters were asking the Lord for my personal protection … which was powerful and profound.

I’ve also been sustained by reading again from the Scriptures about the sovereignty of God and his loving and gracious rule over the heavens and earth.

When you’re part of an unfolding disaster, you see things in God’s word that you might have not appreciated quite as much in the past.

And when we sang Colin Buchanan’s, “Be Strong and Courageous” at church on the weekend, it was a beautiful reminder to “not fear the fire … Jesus has conquered them all!”

TGCA: We want to pray for you, but are there other practical things that our readers can do—send money or encouragement, for example?

In terms of practical things, I’m not really close enough to the disaster area to know how to provide support, but I’d recommend giving to Anglican Aid or an equivalent, church-based organisation, so that the money can be given by Christians, through Christians, in the context of gospel ministry, if possible.

In terms of encouragement, keep telling firies and other emergency service workers and chaplains that you’re praying for them, and even think about small and simple, practical ways to help them as they serve.

Keep telling firies and other emergency service workers and chaplains that you’re praying for them.

For example, one of the people in my church brought a big basket of fresh fruit to our local RFS station, and it was such a simple, and yet powerful gesture of kindness to have such a delicacy when you’re dirty, sweaty and smelly after a long shift out in the fire and the smoke.

TGCA: What would you like us to pray for you and the people of Jamberoo?

  • Pray that through this disaster there would be many people who would say in years to come that they became followers of Jesus back in 2020 during the fire disaster, when a friend told them about the sure hope found in Christ alone.
  • Specifically, I’d love you to pray for a special prayer meeting that we’re running on Tuesday of this week (January 7th) for our whole village and valley of Jamberoo. I’ve been promoting it like crazy through our local, Jamberoo Facebook group, and it would be amazing if many people came into our church and heard the gospel afresh, and sound of believers praying in earnest for our dry and burnt country.
  • And I’d love you to pray that this crisis would be an an opportunity to share with people about the only, true refuge that will last into eternity: the cross of Christ and the hope of the empty tomb.

TGCA: Thankyou so much for taking the time to talk to us, Jodie.