Hundreds of residents are holed up in evacuation centres on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast as firefighters continue to fight 80 fires blazing across the state. The region of Noosa – a beloved holiday destination for Australians and non-Australians alike – has been one of the worst hit, with infernos unable to be contained.
Hillsong Noosa Pastor Jamie Coyle has been at “The J” Theatre – the community facility his church meets in for Sunday services – since midday yesterday.
The J is being used as an evacuation centre for those affected by the bushfires in Peregian Beach and surrounding suburbs.
“There are mattresses everywhere. Two hundred people slept there Monday night, which is its capacity, and then again last night [Tuesday],” he told Eternity.
“There’s just a lot of uncertainty.” – Jamie Coyle
Coyle says he walked into the evacuation centre trying to figure out what the greatest need was; he was ready to mobilise his church to meet that need. But instead of practical needs such as food, accomodation or bedding, he found what was most needed was a listening ear and the offer of prayer.
“For them [the evacuation centre co-ordinators], they feel like they’ve got most things actually covered.” Coyle explains that the evacuation centre is well-resourced practically. The Lions Club is providing food, bakeries are also offering lots of food, and bedding has been provided. People have offered accomodation in the event that evacuation centres are full.
“So the way we’re responding right now is that I sat for a few hours and met a bunch of people and talked to them about their stories. And I prayed with a whole bunch of people while I was there.”
“After this conversation, I’m just about to go down with a few of people, set up the coffee cart … and give people free coffees and hot chocolates.”
Coyle sees the main service his church community can provide at the moment is to have meaningful conversations with people. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty,” Coyle says about Noosa residents, many of whom are in a state of shock.
“The best response the church can have is going to be when they go home … providing ongoing support.” – Jamie Coyle
While he knows being able to sit and listen to evacuees and pray for them is vitally important, Coyle’s main concern is building relationships so his church can support people when the first response is over and evacuees begin to return home.
“The best response the church can have is going to be when they go home … Going back and making sure they are a good a week later and then providing ongoing support,” he reasons.
Coyle tells Eternity about a couple he met who are the owners of a plant nursery in Peregian. Bought just ten months ago, the couple have not insured their business. They know one of their building’s roofs has been lost and that, in all likelihood, most of their plants will have died from the fire’s heat. Aside from that, the couple has no idea what they’ll return to and whether they have actually lost everything.
“So I just told them, ‘Well, I’ll be visiting you in three days’ time,'” Coyle says. “And then based on what their need is, the church can help them at that point.”
Hillsong Church’s Queensland oversight pastor Steve Dixon said the church had called the 691 people on its database in the region to let them know they are praying for them; to ensure they knew to contact Emergency Services for emergencies and that the church was available to provide personal help to them.
He’s heard that a number of the church’s families have been evacuated and are now staying with family or friends, and they’ve also collated a list of church families offering accomodation should anyone be in need. It’s a similar story with the C3 Noosa community, where Pastor Christian McCudden says church families who’ve been directly affected are staying with other church families while they wait out the fires.
Last night, as the Sunshine Coast community braced itself for another long night of waiting, Coyle was praying for relief from the weather. Properties from Peregian Beach to Marcus Beach to Castaways Beach had been evacuated, and residents were being discouraged from returning home from where the fires had passed, with firefighters cautious about unpredictable winds. And, with winds picking up, pushing fires up the coast, evacuee numbers are set to continue increasing.
“So that’s why we’ll be down at The J again tonight, just doing whatever we can,” says Coyle.