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Responding to Natural Disasters
The Associated Press said of 2010
, “This was the year the Earth struck back.”
Last year was the deadliest in more than a generation with earthquakes, landslides, floods and blizzards claiming more than a quarter million lives worldwide. And there doesn’t seem to be any rest for the weary in 2011. In the wake of the Haitian earthquake, we’ve been shocked by volcanic eruptions in Iceland, thunder storms and tornadoes of historic proportion in the United States and a devastating tsunami that ravaged Japan.
It is not uncommon upon hearing reports of another flood or earthquake for someone to remark, “I don’t remember this many natural disasters when I was a kid.” Indeed, they are correct. In the last 100 years, there has
been a precipitous increase in reported natural disasters
, especially since 1960.
As Christians living in an eschatological age, our interpretation of and response to these events are critical. In attempt to “read the signs of the times” (Mt. 16; Mk. 13), some have made date-specific apocalyptic forecasts and have been both disappointed and embarrassed. Others have chosen a different route, focusing less on the meaning of these events and more on what a Christian response should be. They ask: how can we best participate in the long-term recovery of devastated areas?
Roger Sandberg, Vice President of
, has as much credibility on this issue as anyone. His organization has been providing emergency relief and rehabilitation in post-disaster zones for years, and Roger himself has worked in countries from Sudan to Haiti. He has much to say about how the Church can sustainably contribute to these efforts, and that’s why we invited him to speak at our annual Q gathering:
In your opinion, what should the Church's response to natural disasters be? Is sending a check for relief enough or should we also be involved in rehabilitation and development?
Editor's Note: The artwork above is an illustration by Jason Holley.
Great presentation! Thank you, Roger. I have had the opportunity to lead several disaster responses for Water Missions International. As with Roger, I entered into this field with little experience. My thinking was transformed significantly as I learned to think through our responses as much from a theological perspective as a what might be termed a "practical" perspective. God has placed us in this opportunity to assist for good reason and we need to seek his reasoning.
Writing a check is certainly helpful. I am thankful for funding assistance. I would highly recommend that churches find great disaster response organizations and help them establish reserves so they are free to respond quickly. As bad as it may sound, many organizations at least have to ask the question of how much press the disaster will get. The more press the more funding. In our case, we often responded in faith, but in most cases, funding income did not cover expenses.
BUT, more importantly, IMHO, the church is the only entity that has the mandate and the resources to respond to natural disasters and transition from relief to development. There are tremendous opportunities for the Church to have sustained impact. There are good ways for churches to learn and establish effective strategy for entering this field. I am thankful that the Church has awakened to this opportunity.
I think the church's urge to help needs to be tempered by humility. The frequent - and perhaps understandable - desire to do something when confronted by televised disasters often results in poorly prepared church teams sent to get busy or the creation of yet another NGO dedicated to solving a problem.
Maybe the best way for people of faith and their structures (i.e. churches/denominations) to make a difference in high profile instances of human misery is to be satisfied to be a donor to agencies already involved in the affected area. While giving rather than doing doesn't offer the same profile or PR-cachet, it is most often the best way to ensure effective action.
Such determinations demand humility because the decision comes down to a key question: do we want good work done or do we want the credit?
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