The Church offers a listening ear to isolated farmers

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There are just 12,500 people living in west-central Queensland, scattered over an area that is almost a third larger than the size of Victoria. This equates to approximately one person per 13,000 hectares.

Now Longreach Baptist Church, in the town known as the heart of Outback Queensland, is launching a project called Outback Connect to increase social connections and overcome isolation in rural communities.

“The prevalence of mental health and wellbeing issues is higher in rural and remote communities and the impact is much more profound. Social, economic, and geographic barriers to help-seeking prevent many people from accessing support, leading to poor mental health and wellbeing outcomes,” says Pastor Steve Ballin.

Although Steve has only been in Longreach for 2½ years, he says the church there has always been keen to reach people in its rural and remote setting, especially as some members travel more than two hours and more than half of its members travel more than 50 km. to attend a Sunday service.

“After going through 10 years of drought, the church ran a program for several years that supported farm laborers as contract recruiters so farmers could still hire them, but eventually all the contractors left town because ‘there wasn’t enough work,’ he said. .

“So we started praying about how to support the West and this Outback Connect idea came up in the middle of last year where we started looking at how to support people in isolated situations? How to build resilient communities? What can we do, what is our role in this?”

With a grant from Carinity, an association of Baptists in Queensland, the church is building a growing team to provide a listening ear to encourage and support isolated people. Longreach is one of 14 churches and organizations across Queensland that have received over $350,000 in the first year of Carinity Collaborative Community Projects.

“At the most basic level, we are developing a team of people who can connect regularly with people in isolation, not trying to meet their needs, but trying to help them reflect on their situation and provide the changes they need to make,” says Steve.

The key is to train people not to give advice, but to listen and ask good questions so that the person they are connecting with can think things through, although they have a list of resources they can refer to. according to their needs.

Although the program is still in its infancy, the team quickly realized that many people do not feel comfortable connecting and building relationships with strangers. So they decided to start a series of community events to connect with people out west.

“Our flagship product is what we call a Paddock Day. We bring together all the farmers and anyone interested in an area for a day and give them a holistic approach to wellbeing,” says Steve.

“Most of the farmers here have a very intimate relationship with the land. When the earth suffers, they suffer. –Steve Ballin

The event will include talks from agricultural consultants such as a nutritionist talking about the different grasses to come after the drought, someone from an agribusiness financial background talking about how to manage the sale of stock and someone giving an emotional or mental health perspective. .

“The theme we run on is resilience. So resilience in nutrition, resilience in your finances, and resilience in your emotions – building that resilient community and helping them see that they actually have a role to play in building that resilient community,” Steve says.

“We have to remember that last year we were in a drought. Now things are green but the earth has not fully healed. You need a seed bank for grasses to grow each year. The grass and weed we have right now will probably disappear in the next 12 months if we don’t get more rain; and if we don’t build that seed bank in the ground, it won’t be long before farmers are back in the same place.

Steve notes that farmers are deeply affected by what is happening on their properties. “A lot of people see farmers as people who abuse the land, but most farmers here have a very intimate relationship with the land. When the earth suffers, they suffer. When the land grows and prospers, they are happy.

The team will also provide simple training for others on how to support someone who is hurting, if they don’t want to talk to church people, as “research shows that around 80% of our problems find solution if we have someone we trust and can talk to,” Steve said.

He reiterates that the key is to resist trying to fix people’s problems, as he found out during a phone call to a farmer who was having issues with his son.

“His son was in his mid-teens and he was starting to push back a bit. He was really struggling because he wanted his son to stay and take over the family farm. And the son had bigger aspirations than the farm. I also had a relationship with the son. And so everything in me wanted to drive up to the property and fix the problem, but I was like, ‘No, that’s actually not going to help these guys because then I have to be there to fix this problem. ‘ So I could just listen. I was able to simply ask these questions to help him think about the things he was saying. And the good news is, it took a little while, but they got through it, and this guy really appreciated having me there as a sounding board.

“Through these questions people can access grace, the invitation is to relationship, and the challenge of the kingdom of God, through these questions.” –Steve Ballin

Steve says the best model for how to ask powerful questions is found in the Bible, where most of the questions Jesus asked were for the benefit of the other person.

“Even in the Old Testament, God asked people questions many times. His first question to Adam was ‘where are you? – it was not for the benefit of God; it was for the benefit of God. ‘Adam. Time and time again we see with Elijah with Job, all throughout the Bible we see these good and powerful questions really helping people assess where they are at and then help them move forward” , says Steve.

“And we see it so strongly in the life of Jesus. Through these questions, people can access grace, the invitation to relationship, and the challenge of the kingdom of God, through these questions.

When asked how hard it is to get a farmer to sit down and talk about their mental health, Steve says it’s next to impossible – if you’re a stranger.

“But Jesus also modeled that. He went where the people were, he loved them and served them, and that’s where the people’s needs came from. And so that’s really what we do. We go where these people are. We love them and serve them.

“We are not going to evangelize them. We are not ashamed to belong to a church and to be Christians, and when they are ready to talk about spiritual things, we are ready to have these conversations. But if they never want to do that, we’ll never go there, but we’ll love them and serve them anyway because that’s what Jesus did.

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