15th December, 2010
Farmers are known for their love of the land. We think of them as grafters, those who know the meaning of the word ‘work’ and admire them for their tenacity and strength in the face of adversity.
Farmers all over the world are struggling today and farms that were doing well a few generations ago are "doing it tough" today.
A HEART FOR FARMERS: Bill Close founded Care Outreach after he and his wife Melissa toured outback farming communities in Queensland.
“Farmers are essentially private people but their normally persistent optimism has suffered a blow. They work incredibly hard, always in hope of an abundant crop or a thriving herd, but our climate is a hard taskmaster. Often, as we travel, we discover families in extreme hardship as stock losses, failed crops and feelings of isolation take their toll. We are always glad for the opportunity to help.”
Bill Close, founder of Care Outreach
According to Nick Rose, of the Food Connection Foundation, five Australian farmers leave their farms every day. “Depression and suicide rates,” he says, are “double that of the non-farming population” and we are facing what Mr Rose calls, “an unfolding silent rural crisis” in Australia.
In April this year, an event called La Via Campesina was held to "highlight the plight of small farmers worldwide". In support of this initiative, Rose said, “Food is not simply a commodity like any other. It is the very basis of our existence and of our culture. Valuing and respecting food means valuing and respecting our farmers, and ultimately ourselves". He also made mention of the "one billion hungry people on the planet" and of the need to "ensure farmers are able to stay on the land".
Pastor Bill Close, founder of Care Outreach, is fully aware of the needs of the farming families in remote and rural Australia.
In the early Nineties, Bill, his wife Melissa and their young family, were on a ministry tour of Queensland country towns when they were presented with an opportunity to go off route and visit outback farmers in drought-stricken regions.
The first property they arrived at greeted them with a tragic scene. As they drove up to the house the first thing Bill noticed was the kids crying on the verandah. He wondered what they were "getting themselves into as everything, including the front door was wide open". As they went closer they found there were people crying inside too. After spending time with the family they discovered the husband had committed suicide two days before.
Bill explains that “it was just two weeks out from Christmas and we went back into town and bought a load of Christmas goodies, hampers and things and set up a Christmas tree in their lounge room". They did everything they could to cheer up the family, “ministering to them as sensitively as possible considering the situation they were in".
“After about two hours", Bill says, “we hit the road and headed for the next property". Incredibly, “they walked straight into a similar situation again, although this time the family was grieving for their 18-year-old son who had ended his life that same week".
These events signified a turning point in the life of the Close family. “I had seen some horrific things in India and Africa,” Bill says, “but what I couldn’t believe was what was happening in our own backyard".
During their time ministering to these families Bill made a promise to God that “somehow or other we’ve gotta reach these people. Somehow or other we’ve gotta give these people a hand. That was the starting point, the point where we really began to get a burden for these Western people".
Since these early days, Care Outreach has expanded to the extent that their volunteer teams cover a region of more than a million square kilometres, taking aid, food, clothing, toiletries and gifts to struggling families. Visits to families can involve anything from a three to four hour visit to a weeklong stay, depending on the needs they encounter.
“Farmers are essentially private people but their normally persistent optimism has suffered a blow,” Bill says, “They work incredibly hard, always in hope of an abundant crop or a thriving herd, but our climate is a hard taskmaster. Often, as we travel, we discover families in extreme hardship as stock losses, failed crops and feelings of isolation take their toll. We are always glad for the opportunity to help.”
CHALLENGES OF FARMING LIFE: Dust storrms and drought are just some of the challenges facing farmers in Australia today.
Bill has some amazing stories to tell, heartwarming tales of friendships formed from many years of consistently loving and caring folk. Others devastating, like the mother and daughter they found living in a little shack, without electricity and water, living off wild pig and rabbits, while her husband scouted out work in other regions.
Bill says they've found Christmas to be a time “when normally level-headed people, when they are under pressure, do strange things".
"It seems to be the time of the year when we run into people that are most suicidal or that are really struggling in themselves or family breakup seems to be more rampant at this time of the year when it should actually be a time when people are joyful and happy," he says.
"With the commercialism of our culture, there’s this pressure thing where you’ve got to do something splashy at Christmas, provide gifts for your kids and turn on a bit of a big feed for Christmas lunch. When times are difficult and finances are tight what happens is that a lot of these mums and dads in rural areas are feeling that they are failing their families.
"We are finding this is what triggers people off the deep end. So one of our major goals is to take Christmas presents, toys, hampers, etc out to the bush to take a lot of the pressure off and ease things a bit.”
Care Outreach is a faith venture. None of the income they receive is guaranteed and often when needs present themselves Bill and Melissa have no idea where the money will come from to meet them. They pray and lift the needs to the Lord and are constantly amazed to see the Lord bring everything together.
They have seen some incredible breakthroughs in their battle to help the battlers and have had some great people come alongside them along the way. They have been able to help with property maintenance, fixing floors and roofs; building projects and mechanical repairs. One property owner was amazed when a tractor he thought had seen its last days was given a new lease of life. “In remote communities there’s little access to expert help and some jobs can sit for years until enough accumulate to make it worthwhile flying someone in,” Bill explains.
Heavy Queensland rains have changed the plight of many of the families Care Outreach first came across, though it will still take time for farming families to fully recover from stock and crop losses and the many years without rain.
Bill is ever prayerful for the farmers outside of their region also, and is waiting for the Lord to open the right doors so that they can further expand the work into areas where suicide and drought are still desperate problems.
At this time they do not have the capacity to reach them but are standing in faith, knowing that God will bring the right people along.
Bev Holmes-Brown began Link-Zone in 2001 with the purpose of encouraging Frontline Christian groups. In the last nine years Link-Zone has focused on praying for governments, communities and ministries. ‘We are currently transitioning,’ Bev says, ‘believing the Lord wants us to begin to tell people’s stories. There are so many people living amazing and victorious lives for God against the odds, we want to hear from them, to understand their hearts and glean the treasures that God has laid up in their hearts for our own breakthroughs. Of course we will continue to feature our favourite columnists and will not give up on praying but we believe this is a season where God wants us to identify and clarify the frontlines that need our support. It’s exciting to venture into whatever He lays upon our heart. ~ www.Link-Zone.net.