This Is Why We Need Church-Led Disaster Response
As people created in the image of God, we’re meant to care for one another. The Bible is filled with encouragements to love our neighbors, our enemies, anyone. This is true all the time, and it is especially true when disasters strike. Over the past few weeks, they have indeed struck. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries exists to mobilize and support the work of the local church. We believe that supporting church-led disaster response efforts is crucial. Here’s why.
The church is local.
Churches are already in the affected communities and can jump into action immediately. The church is also there for the long haul and isn’t going to leave after the first round of emergency response has ended. When the September 7, 2017, earthquake hit southern Mexico, local Nazarene churches were among the first to respond. Almost immediately, they were able to care for those who were hurting or in danger by providing shelter and meals. While other groups were en route to the affected communities, Nazarene churches in Oaxaca and Chiapas were already working together to provide food for 8,000 people each day and provide medical care for hundreds a day.
In the wake of the kind of mind-boggling devastation we’re seeing after hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, mudslides, and illness, people can struggle to get back on their feet. Yet those who are vulnerable are at an even higher risk. The Christian NGO Tearfund defines vulnerable as “people who are likely to suffer serious loss, damage, injury or death as a result of a hazard.” That can include those who are forced by poverty to live in locations susceptible to disasters, those with reduced mobility because of a disability, young children, senior adults, and others who are physically or economically hampered in some way.
The church cares for those who are vulnerable.
During the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Nazarene churches were able to reach out to marginalized groups who were sometimes the last to receive aid from others. During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the church was able to reach out to those who were abandoned by their communities as a result of stigma surrounding the disease.
Part of the reason that those who are most vulnerable are so affected is because they have less of a safety net to fall into when disasters happen. Each year, 26 million people are forced into poverty because of natural disasters. People who have lost everything may not have insurance or security, depending on family members to help them recover. In some cases, like the Ebola outbreak, even those family members aren’t an option.
The church is there before, during, and after a disaster.
Right after a hurricane or earthquake or illness, there is great need for the church to respond to immediate needs. But the advantage of the church is that it is always present, and so it can be in the community to transition from emergency to recovery and rehabilitation. In Bangladesh, where flooding has caused many to plunge into poverty, immediate food aid is the first order of business. But that’s not the only aim. After the initial relief phase, church-led teams will help community members learn how to grow their own gardens and practice other sustainable habits for food security.
The holistic approach that the church takes addresses the needs of the whole person, including physical, psycho-social, and spiritual. Sometimes, the individual gets lost in the statistics and news reports. All over the world, people are hurting after the loss of jobs, homes, loved ones — the list seems insurmountable. When churches can meet individuals where they are, though, hope starts to grow. Because most of all, the church is there to tell people we’re with them and haven’t forgotten them.