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Steeles swap helicopter for a 4WD in new rural ministry adventure


Auxiliary-Lieutenants Simon and Natalie Steele started their new appointment as Rural Chaplains in south-west NSW earlier this year.
BY LAUREN MARTIN and contributing writers

 

They say the red dust of the Outback gets in your blood. That was certainly the case for Auxiliary-Lieutenants Natalie and Simon Steele, who responded to a call from God in 2008 to become flying padres with The Salvation Army Outback Flying Service based in Mount Isa, Queensland. They planned to ‘give it a go’ for three years, but God’s call and the alluring beauty of the landscape and its people led to them staying for 15 years.

 

Now, the couple have said goodbye to an area that God has used to shape and transform them, knowing that the time was right to step out in faith into the next adventure of following Jesus. This time, swapping a helicopter for a 4WD and an appointment as Rural Chaplains – South-West NSW, based in Griffith.

 

Simon and his beloved helicopter in 2018 in the midst of a crippling drought.

Memories of the Outback – Simon

 

Simon Steele is no more at home than in the cockpit of a helicopter. He loves flying, and when God acted to combine this passion with his faith and a call to ministry, he and his wife Natalie jumped at the chance.

 

Almost at the start of their appointment, significant floods swept through Normanton and outlying outback communities and The Salvation Army was asked by the State Emergency Service to assist. “It really ignited my passion for that kind of work,” Simon remembers. “There was also Cyclone Yasi ... [and] there’s been a lot of other disasters. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of that and utilising the tools that I have like my helicopter experience, to those things. Landing at properties [to bring in food and supplies] that you couldn’t get into by plane and were difficult to get into.”

 

Simon Steele says one of the highlights of his 15-year ministry in outback Queensland was assisting with significant flooding events.

Simon’s expertise earned him a reputation among emergency services personnel, and when a serious boating accident occurred on Christmas Eve in 2018, Simon didn’t hesitate to respond to a call for assistance. “That was a big highlight for me of our time in Mount Isa,” says Simon.

 

Simon and his friend, Jim Lillecrapp, were first on the scene of the accident at Lake Julius, 70km north-east of Mount Isa. They encountered a family of three whose boat had collided with an underwater log, resulting in serious and life-threatening injuries to three of them.


Simon, Jim and Lake Julius couple Belinda and Robert Worlein acted quickly, enabling the injured people to get treatment and be airlifted to hospital. 

 


Right: Simon preparing to take off in the rescue process of three people after an accident near Mt Isa in 2018. Left: The award presented to Simon.

 The four were honoured with a 2019 Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Queensland Local Hero Award for their quick thinking and level-headed response. They had already received the RFDS Local Hero award in Mount Isa.

 

“It was a real honour to receive this award,” he said at the time to Salvation Army writer Simone Worthing. “It really impacted me on the night that more than 750 people had gathered for the occasion, and we were part of such a big event.

 

“The greatest reward for me, though, is to know that three people who easily could’ve died are now alive. At the time, I didn’t realise just how critical the situation was. As I found out later, one of the patients probably would’ve only lived another hour had we not got him to hospital.”


Natalie says she will miss the people of the Outback communities who they shared life with.

Memories of the Outback – Natalie

 

“I think back on some of the events that we’ve been involved in,” says Natalie. “Places that we’ve been able to go, I think of Urandangie and the relationships that we had there and the different kinds of ministry that we had there, and we were able to invite other people to come and experience this unique iconic outback Australian community.”

 

One of the legacies the Steeles will leave in the red dirt is their ministry to the small outback community of Urandangie, 180km south-west of Mount Isa. The couple began travelling there in Christmas 2008, delivering Christmas hampers and toys for children and running a church service. They also began to lead Anzac Day services each year and attended the annual cricket day, run by the local publican, Pam Forster, which raised money for the Outback Flying Service.

 

The ministry then expanded with an annual ‘Dangie Pamper Day’, organised by Mount Isa Corps in partnership with the Longreach Rural Chaplains and volunteer teams from Townsville’s Riverway Recovery Mission.

 

“The pamper days started because we really wanted to do something for the ladies, both in the town and on outlying properties, and their children,” said Natalie in 2019 to Salvation Army writer Simone Worthing. “Pam suggested a pamper day and activities for the children while their mums were busy, which is what we did.”


Providing Christmas gifts for children of remote Indigenous communities was a joy, says Natalie.

In the Outback, there is this resilience – we always talk about the resilience of people in the Outback,” says Natalie. “Part of that is because of leaning on other people in community, and when you see that happening well, you realise you don’t have to be all things to all people. Living in the outback has taught me that I need to do my part well and ask for help and lean on others and recognise other people’s strengths and encourage them in that – just as God does for us.”

 

God’s provision

 

Natalie and Simon knew that God was closing doors and opening others when they were first called into Salvation Army ministry at Mount Isa. Stepping into the unknown tested their faith and drew them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

 

When their appointment changed in 2017 to include the additional role of corps officers at Mount Isa Corps, it was another time of trusting in God’s provision as they lost members of their team and were the only Salvation Army officers left in a small, extremely remote community.

 

Simon and Natalie and their young family early in their Outback Flying Service ministry in Mt Isa.

“There was an added layer of isolation,” remembers Natalie of that time. “God often calls us into the unknown, and he does call us to step out in faith, we want the assurances, but we can feel that call of God. To step out and to see his faithfulness and the way that he provides for us and that he is also so caring and personal.”

 

Both say they learned first-hand about the beauty of God’s ‘body of Christ’ design during their time as the Corps Officers in Mount Isa, following Jesus in their giftings and recognising the giftings of those in the community around them. During this time, the corps thrived, and fruitful connections were made with Christians of other denominations in the town. Simon also started a men’s group in the Helicopter Hangar, which was a fruitful ministry.

 

“Spiritually, God showed me that I only need to be the person that God has created me to be ... sometimes we are led to believe that you have to be in worship or preaching a message or something like that to really impact people, but if you minister from the heart of who you are, it’s amazing how much of an impact God can have through that.”

 

New beginnings

 

Both Natalie and Simon, whilst sad to leave Mount Isa (where their youngest son – now 18 – has stayed), know that God is calling them to a change in appointment. The Salvation Army ceased its Outback Flying Service, based at Mount Isa, two years ago, and it was one of the signs that God was, once again, closing doors.

 

Natalie will miss the sunsets and the beauty of the landscape but says, “it’s kind of nice to know there’s a bit of red dirt just down the road” from their south-west NSW appointment, that stretches to the dusty edges of the state. “There is in the harshness there [in Outback Queensland] something that is also very beautiful. It’s often the way, that the things that are difficult are also where the blessing lies,” she says.

 

Please keep Natalie and Simon Steele in your prayers as they commence their new roles as Rural Chaplains – South-west NSW.



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