An alleged arsonist has destroyed Rockhampton’s Oasis Life Church after a fire broke out in the early hours of Sunday morning. By the time fire crews arrived there was nothing they could do to save the building. Police estimate the replacement cost will be in the millions of dollars.
Church member Corne Esterhausen told Vision Radio: “The person who lives next to the church woke to a bit of a smoke smell and saw the flames and when they went to inspect it, they found the church already engulfed in flames. The fire brigade was contacted, but when they arrived, flames were already overtaking the whole building and there was not a lot that the fire brigade could do. The whole building collapsed”.
Pastor Nathan Jones told Vision Radio: “I got a phone call at 2 o’clock in the morning to say that the church building was on fire. And so I came straight down to the property. And sure enough, there’s fire brigades everywhere, police everywhere, ambulance. And it was fully alight.” Fire crews needed to dismantle the structure as the roof had collapsed and there were fires underneath that firefighters could not get to and extinguish without breaking down the charred ruins.
Mr. Esterhausen said word quickly spread through the church community: “I think everybody is still in shock after flames engulfed the whole building. We watched as they demolished most of the church while the fire brigade was still spraying water on the smouldering areas.”
The church had been based in the building known as Kershaw House for around 10 years. “It’s been pretty devastating, we’re just navigating through that with the community and our people. There’s a lot of mixed emotions. So we’re just helping people walk through that journey, just working on what we do moving forward,” Pastor Jones explained.
He told Vision Radio around 100 parishioners gathered in nearby Kershaw Gardens for an outdoor morning service, just hours after the blaze broke out. “It was a great opportunity to come together with our church people and the community. We just knew that we needed to be with the people in front of them, just to help them navigate the emotional feelings of what they were feeling, but also that the community knew that as a church we love, this is not going to stop us. We love our community, we love our people, and we just stay together to help them go through the emotions. It was just a great time in the park with everybody, it helped them feel a lot more like Okay, it’s going to be okay,” Pastor Jones revealed.
Corne Esterhausen described the outdoor service: “The whole church community got together and we praised God. And wow! We stood together as the church is holding the service. It was amazing. What a great reminder. As we go out in the world, we see a lot of people going through quite a lot of things. But we know that Jesus is the Head of the church. He builds the church and He’s the one that we can rely on and trust when the building is going to hopefully be replaced. We are reminded even in Australia, that we all should go out and speak to a dying world about the love of Jesus. The building is not where we find our savings. We were not saved in the building. We’ve got memories in the building, but we are saved by the love of Jesus on the cross.”
Pastor Jones added that spirits have been buoyed by messages of support from around the nation. “We’ve been receiving messages from right across our whole nation, which has just been phenomenal. You just realise that we’ve got people backing us throughout this hard time.”
He also asked for prayers for the Oasis congregation: “Prayer would be fantastic because it’s still a bit numb. We’re all still feeling a little numb. But definitely pray. We need God and his wisdom through this and the Holy Spirit to minister to them through it all. Donations-wise, if people felt to give that would be fantastic. Obviously, in the months to come, that’s going to be a big area for us. Just go to our website www.oasis.life. They’ll find a page there where they could give. We’d really appreciate that, but prayer is the big one because most people need that.”
Pastor Jones says the church will be looking for alternative meeting places such as halls, until a new building can be completed.
A 33-year-old man was remanded in custody after appearing in Rockhampton Court on Monday (August 28), charged with arson over the fire. The Morning Bulletin reports police as saying the accused had recently moved from Gympie to Rockhampton and had been attending the Oasis Life Church, but very recently became homeless.
The Rockhampton newspaper quoted Detective Acting Senior Sergeant Kevin Mawdsley as stating the arson was believed to have been targeted. He revealed that the suspect “had some motivation to make this attack against Oasis Church,” but added that the man had been uncooperative and had so far shed no light on any reason for the alleged arson.