Ray of sunshine amid the gloom
13 February 2015
Ray Stewart had just left Bundaberg for Brisbane when the rain started. It was January 2013.
Ray was undergoing treatment for cancer and was booked in for radiation treatment in Queensland’s capital 350km to the south. There was no way he could know the devastation he would return home to.
When Ray got back to Bundaberg, his house and most of his possessions had been destroyed in the floods.
“Everything was just gone,” he says quietly. “There I was, sitting in a caravan a friend had kindly lent me, and wondering how I was ever going to do anything with this wreck of a house.
“I had really hit rock bottom and had just given up hope.”
Ray’s family, friends, neighbours and even strangers helped him strip his home’s flood- damaged walls and rip out the kitchen, but, as a pensioner and uninsured, he was overwhelmed by the impending costs of rebuilding.
“Out the blue, David Wilkinson from The Salvation Army turned up, introduced himself, and said he was told that I had a bit of a problem,” says Ray with a chuckle.
“David had a look at the place and said his team could fix up the walls and do quite a bit to get the house set to be lived in. A couple of days later the plasterboard arrived and they were into it!”
It wasn’t long before new walls were up, a kitchen installed and the bathroom rebuilt.
“Seeing all this lifted me up off the floor and gave me a sense of meaning and purpose again,” says Ray. “I just can’t believe how helpful, how wonderful, The Salvation Army has been. The house is just marvellous.”
Back on his feet
Ray spent many years of his life working in Papua New Guinea and was heavily involved there with Rotary, assisting with a range of projects, among them the fight against malaria and polio. He received an MBE in 1990 for his services to the people of PNG, and an OBE several years later.
“My PNG photos and letters from the Queen went with the floods, but I still have my medals,” he says. “It’s disappointing but just part of life really.
“I’ve always helped others and haven’t needed any help until now. These have been the worst two years of my life but thanks to the Salvos, I’m back on my feet.
“It takes me back to what my father and uncle said after World War Two: ‘The only people you can rely on in this world are the Sallies. Even in the trenches you would look over your shoulder and there would be the Sallyman with a cup of tea and biscuit’.
“The Salvation Army really is ‘Christianity with its sleeves rolled up’. The kindness they have shown and the help they have given cannot be described.”
By Simone Worthing
Photo by Shairon Paterson