I teared up! The farmer’s dozer was broken down, the diesel mechanic had returned to town for parts and the farmer's chainsaw filled the bush with noise as he brought down branches suitable for his sheep to eat. Over a sandwich we talked of assistance but the response was like that of others, “There are people a lot worse off than us!” Five thousand dollars a week I am told to keep his sheep alive but his wife made clear that they’d take no help.
The pastor of his church crouched down among the trees, the silent communication of friends a reflection on an uncertain future that words can’t answer. Behind the pastor’s sunglasses I could get no read on how he was feeling but noted that he was not unaffected by his mate’s circumstances.
As I sat in the dirt opposite an abandoned lamb, seeking to capture an image on camera, the farmer’s lunch time admission of the day when he dropped to his knees in the paddock and cried out to God played on the theatre of my mind. The motherless state of the lamb held in the camera’s lens was further agonised by the cactus spiked to its side and its unanswered bleating for assistance. I don’t consider myself a weak man when it comes to tough times but surrounded by a grassless dirt and the noise of chainsaw desperation, I teared up and fell to prayer myself.
In town things were quiet, but for the loud and insecure thoughts of those who wondered if they could keep their shops open. There was no obvious cactus spiked to them but they were agonised by the unpaid and the uncertain.
Over ten days I visited Walgett, Collarenebri, Moree, Mungindi and Lightning Ridge and my reflections could be true of any of these places and their people. Towards the end of my visits, the crushing news of the death of a young farming father at his own hands and the look in the eye’s of the pastor who would be taking his funeral had me tear up and reminded me that we are all dependent beings in need of God and each other and I fell to prayer.
An ancient song writer once asked a question, “I raise my eyes towards the mountains, where will my help come from?” His answer, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
I don’t know how long it took for this ancient lyricist to come to this answer, but he does. As his ballad continued, better than his looking to the hills was his discovery that God was tirelessly watching, watching in the sense of keeping, protecting and guarding even through the most slippery of times.
Sitting in a paddock looking through a lens at a lamb, I learnt again an appreciation of the resilient courage of our rural communities – farmers, shop keepers, church pastors and even the children. I saw the fragility of life. I learnt that God watching over us can be seen in a myriad of ways – the provision of rain in response to our prayers would be one way, but in the absence of rain, he may assist us through the generosity of others.
To our precious farming communities I would plead that you not despise the gifts of help offered and to those who give I would ask you to be patient as farmers struggle to receive the help offered. To all of us I believe we would be greatly helped if we discovered our help comes from the Lord. Faith matters and if I can be a help in this please ask.