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The Church and disasters

Each disaster brings individual stories of great tragedy and human suffering. How is the church to respond to such need? 

1994 Available in Portuguese, Spanish, English and French

Footsteps magazine issues on a wooden desk.

From: When disaster strikes – Footsteps 18

How churches and communities can prepare for disasters, including training in First Aid

by Jun Vencer. 

Each Disaster brings individual stories of great tragedy and human suffering. How is the church to respond to such need?  Every church should be involved in providing relief for those who suffer – in whatever way. In the book of Acts, the early church in Antioch provides a good model for all churches to follow. When the famine in Judea took place, every believer in Antioch …each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in  Judea. 

In some countries the church is uniquely placed to provide effective relief in times of disaster. Churches may be nearby and able to act quickly in the affected areas.  Church leaders are usually reliable and able to identify those in greatest need in the community. After the relief operation the local church provides a permanent focus for follow-up. Relief agencies can come and go, but the local church remains. 

The churches’ involvement in relief can be a powerful witness to those around. When the gospel is put into practice during relief work, many may respond to the Christian faith. However, Christian groups need to be very sensitive to this issue. It is very easy to encourage ‘rice Christians’ – those who believe that by saying they have become Christians they will receive more help and food. The gospel should not be preached to captive audiences – for example, people queuing for help in a mission hospital or waiting to receive food aid. God’s desire is for willing disciples. 

The church has a social responsibility to help needy people in the name of Jesus Christ. In disaster situations the caring actions of Christians will often speak louder than words.

Three case studies

In Armenia relief parcels were distributed to displaced people in hostel accommodation without any outward form of evangelism taking place. There was also no literature displayed. In this situation, their approach helped people to keep their dignity – particularly as some did not agree with their beliefs.     

In Zimbabwe one group preached and sang Christian songs to people before food distribution took place. Something of a festival atmosphere was created, as the local people were sympathetic to Christian beliefs.     

In Bosnia, food and other relief goods are made available to community groups who then manage the distribution themselves. These groups may be secular, Catholic or Muslim – evangelistic outreach is not part of the distribution.  However, Christian literature and daily Bible reading notes are printed by this organisation these are made available to any contacts in the leadership of the community groups.  Although the relief distribution and literature work are quite separate, they work together as two aspects of outreach to the whole person –  practical and spiritual.

Rebuilding from nothing

The war in Sierra Leone in 1992 destroyed so many lives and so much property. But through these events, the Lord is teaching us many things as we are faced with a great number of challenges. I used to have machines for farming, all of which have been lost. Jesus has been challenging me:  ‘Were you depending on those tools, that equipment, and worshipping them instead of me?’ 

As a result of the traumatic events I have become very much attached to the people – they see that my interest in them is genuine since I stood with them during their time of difficulty. This makes them eager to work with me and I am challenged to continue living and working with them. The challenge to me is to stay with the people whether or not my employer keeps paying me a salary. 

People are responding to the challenge to work harder because now they have nothing other than their own efforts on which to rely for food. They are also challenged to accept new ideas. The war has destroyed so much that they are willing to start afresh. I believe God is challenging me to obey him and start farming again, this time in the way that the village people farm – maybe we can be built up again together from nothing.  

Revd Musa Jambawai, RURCON Counsellor, Sierra Leone

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