Washington, D.C. (BWA) — Baptists in Australia have established an emergency relief fund to aid persons affected by the worst natural disaster in the history of the southeastern state of Victoria.

Bushfires that started on February 7 have claimed more than 180 lives, with at least 80 persons missing, and have destroyed more than 900 homes. There are fears that the death toll will rise to more than 300.

Three closely related Baptist bodies, Baptcare, the Baptist Union of Victoria (BUV), and the Baptist Union of Australia (BUA), established an Emergency Bushfire Relief Fund with an initial grant of AUS$50,000.

The fund will be used primarily for food, clothing, accommodation, and personal needs, as well as for bereavement counseling.

In addition to the fund, Baptist churches in Victoria are being used as emergency shelters, and local congregations are offering pastoral care to victims of the fires, which have badly affected farms, forests, and wildlife. More than 1,200 square miles have been destroyed by the inferno.

“We’ve watched in horror this past weekend as news of the tragic bushfires in rural Victoria have taken their toll on lives and property,” said a release from the BUA. “As a network of nearly 1,000 churches the Baptist Union of Australia is calling Baptist churches across our nation to prayerfully consider their response to this disaster.”

“Please join us in praying for those in need, and for all those seeking to offer practical care and support,” the BUV requested in its release to Baptists in Victoria and elsewhere.

Baptist World Alliance General Secretary informed Brian Winslade, national director of the BUA, that “The BWA is launching an appeal in aid of the victims of the fires and we will channel contributions received through the Baptist Union of Victoria.”

Callam expressed regret at the loss of life and property and commended the response of Australian Baptists to the disaster.

“Please be assured of the love and compassion of all Baptists who wish to comfort those who have experienced tragedy and loss, said Callam. Please let our sisters and brothers in Australia know of our concern and prayers for them in these difficult days.”

Click here to see the emergency appeal from Australian Baptists.

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