Responding to Natural Disasters
We are sometimes called to serve those in need during times of crisis. Having a comprehensive and systematized plan for aiding in disaster relief will help keep your group safe, in addition to being able to more efficiently provide aid.
Many organizations use a two-team model to form their relief efforts. The first team (comprised primarily of church leaders such as pastors and deacons) focuses on ministry aspects of the church: traditional activities such as worship, Sunday school, and youth group. The second team focuses on relief efforts in terms of rebuilding and reaching out to the spiritual needs of those in the community where they are working.
There are four phases of disaster relief:
- Mitigation – Preventing future emergencies or minimizing their effects
Example: Preparing a city to handle a massive amount of water by putting in a dam and buying flood or fire insurance
- Preparation – Making a plan for what to do when a disaster occurs
Example: Establishing where to meet if communications go out or gathering supplies of water and nonperishable food
- Response – Actions taken to save lives and prevent further property damage; putting the preparation plans into action
Example: Emergency feeding, obtaining everyday supplies, finding shelter
- Recovery – Actions taken to return to a normal or even safer living situation following an emergency (Recovery can last for months or even years after the disaster)
Difficulties can arise when responding to natural disasters. Consider all the possibilities and prepare for them:
- Conflicts concerning the vision of the church (between those who want to go back to the traditional ministries of the church and those who want to continue with the work they are doing = vision struggle)
- Taxing on the church – Relief work is physically exhausting for members and staff and there will be wear and tear on the church facility and resources
- Not about church growth – about kingdom growth
- Lack of materials – learn by doing, learn from mistakes
It is imperative to understand that not every need is a call. Sometimes it is better to send money or supplies in support rather than sending volunteers.
A church needs to think through: what is our vision? What is our mission? How would this specific involvement in disaster relief in a particular area fit into that vision and mission?
Disaster relief is not an all or nothing involvement; there are levels of participation depending on the size of the church, the experience of its members, and the availability of resources.
Factors to consider when deciding to respond to a natural disaster:
- The local church is an invaluable resource. They are a pipeline to people who have needs in the community and can help formulate how teams can provide support
- Insurance is needed (Contact MissionSafe at firstname.lastname@example.org !)
- Nature of the disaster could be a risk – special skills may be required
- What is the capacity for long-term commitment or partnership? It is essential to be able to maintain your commitment:
- Does your organization have the capacity to handle a long-term partnership?
- Does the nature of what you are doing fit who you are and who you work with as an organization?
- Does it fit the skills and abilities of your organization?
- Make sure you have the needed resources such as staff, facilities, etc.
- Are you able to establish a two-team model (team 1 and team 2)? Can you still continue normal church activity during the relief effort?
- How long do you want to be involved and what phase(s) do you want to be part of? Set a mission instead of a timeline
Set expectations at the beginning: If you were sent out for 5 hours, spent 1 hour working and 4 hours talking to someone who is in need of support and encouragement, you had an incredibly successful day. An important part of disaster relief is about discipleship; not just safe and secure housing.