Ministry to farmers in northern NSW
Two farmers are working with Anglicare Northern Inland And Bush Church Aid in northern NSW, ministering to others like themselves – farmers doing it tough in drought-afflicted regional areas.
Ranald and Jenny Mitchell, North Star locals who have lived in the region most of their lives, have been recently engaged as Drought and Family Support Workers by Anglicare Northern Inland (formerly the Armidale Diocese’s Anglican Counselling Service), and are on an 18-month assignment working with individual farmers and regional churches. They are financially supported by BCA.
Mr Mitchell says much of the work he and his wife do is simply being a presence in the lives of regional farmers, many of whom have been without a source of income for months or even years due to the ongoing drought conditions in parts of NSW.
“We’ve been visiting people but also making a lot of phone calls and just being there,” he says. “I’ve gone around to the local agents and suppliers, asking if they know people who are doing it tough. I’ve gotten some names of people to contact through that. Because we’ve been in the district all our lives, we know a lot of people personally in the area.”
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Adds Mrs Mitchell: “One thing we did early August was to go to Barradine as a follow-up to work we had done earlier in the year after the fires. Those kinds of visits usually entail – where there is no vicar – Ran taking a church service at the beginning or end of our visit, and we will visit farms and spend time talking to people the rest of the time.”
The current conditions, with very little harvest for farmers to reap for a second successive year, mean many families have little to no income. Some have taken the difficult decision to sell their properties. Even for those who can earn some money, budgets are often tight with little to no discretionary income.
The Mitchells themselves are expecting a weaker than average harvest from their own biological farming set-up this year but say they are better off than their neighbours further west.
“It’s not all grim, of course, because people here are very resilient,” Mr Mitchell says. “There are things that are still happening. It is difficult, though, for people to leave home. They don’t always have money for petrol or just don’t feel motivated to get out and go to places. That’s usually where we step in, get in contact and see whether people would like us to drop in. People never ring us or say they are feeling down but we’ve never had someone turn us down because they wouldn’t like a visit.”
“Some people are more open than others, of course,” Mrs Mitchell adds. “You just play it by ear and you don’t say too much. Silence is one of the very first things they tell you to look for in counselling. People often just need someone else there who is listening.”
Photo: Ranald and Jenny Mitchell support struggling fellow farmers through BCA