A Raging Inferno
A Raging Inferno – Everyman Ben Ridley
Whilst my wife Claudia and I were away on a Missions trip to Uganda and Finland late 2019 and early 2020, we had been tracking the progress of the terrible bush fires burning all over Australia. I received the message whilst in Finland that the ADF were requesting philanthropic support with the firefighting effort on ‘Operation Bushfire Assist’. As a Rep for Everyman’s Welfare Service these opportunities to deploy are the most exciting and fruitful times of ministry. The fires had begun before we left for Uganda and burnt during the entire 2 months that we were overseas. I had actually had a feeling that I was going to go and help during our countries time of crisis a few days prior to the message of request coming in, and when it came I knew it was God who was calling me to go. Only a few days after landing back in Australia I set off in my ‘Brew Truck’ for Victoria.
I ended up in the East Gippsland region, serving in the towns of Orbost, Omeo and Bairnsdale mainly. I was surprised to find that my battalion 8/9 RAR had also been sent to Orbost, so that made things easier and I also got to work with many other ADF units including 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment, RAAF personnel, and some Army Reserve elements. I also had the privilege of working with the P.N.G. Army engineers and Fijian Military Force engineers as well as the local authorities. During the 6 weeks I was deployed there were many long nights and early mornings, but the sacrifice was worth every second! One day that stood out was when I met the Chiefs of the Defence Forces of Australia, P.N.G and Fiji, when they were touring around the various fire affected towns. I had many opportunities for ministry and many spirit-led encounters during my time. I was particularly blessed by the Fijian Army who were all professing Christians, this made speaking about God very easy. The Fijians particularly hold God in a high regard and are not ashamed to show it. Every morning and evening the entire group have a time of devotion with hymn singing and prayer, I was able to join in and was even asked to lead the devotions on a few occasions. They were very touched to hear how God had transformed my life from being a soldier that was a wretched sinner to a disciple of Jesus Christ. It was the Fijians and the P.N.G. soldiers that I grew particularly close with and at the end of my time with them the showed me great kindness and gave me some gifts for myself and Claudia. The Fijians sung a traditional farewell song to me the day that I left, something I will always remember.
It was an amazing time and I saw much devastation and suffering, but tragedy also brings out good things in people and I was amazed to see communities pulling together in a powerful way. I consider it a privilege to serve the Lord, the troops, and the country in times like those during the bushfires.