“Everyone along the river is very, very aware of the need - a lot of farmers haven’t had irrigation and water for three years,” explains Warwick Marsh, recalling conversations he’s had with people along Australia’s Murray-Darling river system.

“I talked to one man who had a beautiful dairy - it had been in his family for three generations and they’re farming on the river with irrigation...and they watched $300,000 worth of assets drop down to $30,000 over a three year period and that man had to sell that. It’s a pretty heartbreaking situation...

Murray River

A PARCHED LAND: Dry conditions along the banks of the Murray River. PICTURE: Matthew Palmer (www.istockphoto.com).

“A lot of farmers are facing those situations and the sad thing, of course, is that many are committing suicide...and a lot of that is do with the drought and pressures being put on families.”

Mr Marsh, the founder of Australian Heart Ministries, is one of two men who are embarking on a two day pilgrimage along the Murray River later this month to highlight the need for people to pray for the healing of our inland river systems.

Together with Pastor Peter Walker, of Australian Indigenous Christian Ministries, he is calling people to pray in particular for the Murray-Darling system, which some have said could be “beyond recovery” unless it receives a significant influx of water in the short-term.

Mr Marsh says that while following last year’s National Solemn Assembly in Canberra - in which people from across the nation joined together to pray for Australia, and in particular, an end to the drought - there had been a “measure of the drought break” in the capital cities and coastal areas, inland Australia remained in drought.

“There’s still enormous needs out there and we just feel it’s time to do something to show that we care for our friends in the bush but also that we need to pray for the end of the drought. And, of course, that’s going to bring healing to our rivers. The Murray-Darling needs just a huge flush-out, a huge flood to just clean it out and get the system going again.”

The Murray-Darling Basin, which drains around a seventh of the Australian land mass, is the most significant agricultural area in Australia.

The pilgrimage, which also has the support of the Australian Prayer Network and the Australian Indigenous Prayer Network, will start at the Hume Weir on 30th September and the two men will then travel down the river by car to finish at the Mildura/Wentworth junction of the Murray-Darling on 1st October.

Along the way, they will be stopping to pray and take communion at communities in New South Wales and Victoria including Albury/Wodonga, Corowa, Tocumwal, Echuca, Barham, Swan Hill, Robinvale, Mildura and Wentworth.

Mr Marsh says it was decided to take communion at the stops because “we believe it’s an issue of grace”.

“You could argue Australia doesn’t deserve the rain because we’re killing our children - 100,000 a year - and there’s terrible injustices and terrible levels of disobedience to God’s commands right across the nation but by having communion we’re declaring the blood of Jesus and the Lord’s death until He comes and the Lord’s resurrection until He comes. And in that we’re saying ‘Grace, grace, grace. Father, forgive us, cleanse us. We don’t know what we’re doing, we need your help. Heal our land and, of course, bring down the rain’."

They will be inviting local, state and federal government and church representatives to attend the public rallies in the towns along the way and expect people from a broad range of denominations to take part as they pray for the mercy of God to be poured out on Australia and lift farmers in prayer.

Mr Marsh says that he believes Australia has a “spiritual heart” deep down.

“And it’s a case of awakening that heart to God...” he says. “I believe that we’ve got to think of our brothers and sisters in the bush and do what we can to help them in their time of need.”

• Inquiries should be directed to Australian Heart Ministries at [email protected] or (02) 4272 9100.