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WA church hopes to rebuild out of ash and smoke

CHRISTIAN LIVING  |  Anne Lim

Friday 29 January 2016

Pastor Bob Chapman believes there was a very good reason he felt called by God to set up Yarloop Christian Church a year ago.

The church, an outreach of Four Square Church, met each Sunday in the community centre, which was burnt to the ground in the firestorm that wiped out the town in southern Western Australia last month.

The blaze destroyed 121 homes and other structures in the historic mill town, and traumatised about 50 residents who left it too late to flee, and had to spend a harrowing night on the oval surrounded by exploding houses.

“I’m just absolutely stunned that they survived through the smoke and the ash as the whole town burned around them,” Bob told Eternity.

“Some that I know lost everything.

“Some stayed to try and fight the fire, others left, and we were just there for them the next day and the day after that, and we’ve been there for them ever since.”

“We want to be there with them as they dig up and start again.”

As Bob seeks out Yarloop folk in the surrounding towns of Harvey, Waroona and Pinjarra where they are staying in temporary accommodation, “they’re delighted that we’re there and there’s hugs and tears and sharing,” he says.

“So it’s been hard work for us but it’s been worthwhile and a bit like the gumnut after a scorching fire, the seed will grow and hopefully turn into blooms there,” he says.

Bob is kicking off a new church meeting in a timber hall in the nearby small town of Hamel, which fire-fighters were able to save by water-bombing, and he will continue his ministry there until he can return to Yarloop.

“Somehow or other we’re trying to raise funds for a transportable [home] that can go into the town so that when the people start going back and start building again, we’re going to be there with our transportable and manning it every day and providing counselling and providing cups of tea and a bit of drink or even on Sundays we’ll use it as a worship centre,” he says.

“That’s what we’d like to do now.”

Bob’s ministry to Yarloop began 18 months ago when he felt called by the Lord to go and pray for this particular town.

“We’d been praying about going to Waroona or Harvey but one day I just felt that Yarloop was where I needed to go and obviously that was the right place,” he says.

“I took another man with me and we began praying in the local park in Yarloop and then we started getting out and meeting people in the town at the local community centre and at the museum and the shops. Just gradually over the last 18 months we’ve met some 80-odd people and they’re on our prayer list and people that we’ll go and visit regularly in the town or where we can find them.”

About a year ago, the local people suggested that Bob start a church in Yarloop because the only church there, a Catholic church, was inactive.

“So we met in the local community centre and invited people along and we would get not very many – one or two would come along regularly. Then the Band of Brothers bicycle group came down once a month so we’d suddenly have nearly 20 there at that time.”

Gradually numbers built up but most of those who came were not Christians. Most were retirees or single mothers who were taking advantage of the cheap rents in town. “So we would go down every Tuesday and Thursday and minister to the people in the streets and in the op shop and the museum,” says Bob. “Then every Sunday we would have a service down there and sit around, have a cup of tea and talk to people and share a bit of the gospel with them.”

Before the fire, the congregation had grown to about ten locals and five or ten who came to help from Harvey and Waroona.

“I’ve got some wonderful Christian people that have come out of the churches and got involved on the ground in this ministry and they’re so keen to get back and keep going and that’s a delight.

“We want to be there with them as they dig up and start again. So if we can get hold of the transportable we want we’ll be very happy people.”

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