When disaster & tragedy strike: What churches can do to involve everybody in making a difference

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The last few weeks have seen major natural disasters strike in several communities across ur nation. Along with the worst mass shooting in US history, these events have raised awareness as to how able and willing people are to help others.when catastrophe occurs.  

As children of a movement that was described in Acts with phrases like "no needy were found among them" (4:34). we live in the powerful shadow of people who loved others in hardship practically and responsively. Leaders like Jesus' good friend John were actually surprised at the thought that Christ's followers would live any other way:

"If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" I John 3:17

In the wake of all that has happened to so many around us, I started looking for 2 things:

1. Were Jesus' followers stepping into the need and coming along side others during these crisis'?

2. Did they do it in a way that would involve people new to their churches or even new to faith?

Here's what I found...

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Yonat Shimron of FaithZette wrote this about one church in Las Vegas: "A mass shooting is a test for any religious institution — and a massacre like the one that left 59 dead and hundreds injured in Las Vegas, even more so. Hope Church, a growing multi-ethnic congregation that attracts 3,000 people each weekend, says it’s up to the challenge."

"This is the day when we get the opportunity to really rise up and serve the city and love the city and demonstrate the love of God for the city," said Vance Pitman, the founder and senior pastor.

Pitman only learned of the magnitude of the killings at a country music concert when he awoke Monday, October 2, but he quickly assembled his staff to sketch out the beginning of a response:

  • The church called in all of its 15 pastors to be on hand as it opened its doors as a safe space for prayer and counseling and, if needed, a shelter for anyone dislocated as a result of the shooting at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
  • It urged its members to donate blood and worked to get a mobile blood unit on the church grounds to help with the effort.
  • Pitman had several phone conversations with police and other law enforcement officials to let chaplains and officers know the church was ready, willing and able to provide physical and emotional support to anyone in need.

I particularly loved the blood drive on the church campus because it gave a local alternative to the long lines downtown for donating blood and allowed anybody in the church or neighborhood to make a vital difference, not just the leaders and staff.

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, we at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim CA were able to respond within days of the disaster by sending $37,000 dollars to New Hope Church that was prepared to help clean out and repair salvageable houses should a high category hurricane strike. We were able to do this because we had already set aside an amount from our Compassion Fund for disaster relief. Since we already set aside 15 cents of every dollar for local and global compassion causes, it was simple to designate a part of that for such an event.

There is the key to our churches being able to demonstrate God's love in a powerful way during a community crisis. As with handling surprises in our personal lives, the ability to bring relief and hope comes down to these 3 words: have a plan. If you have a plan, all you have to do is implement it when disaster strikes.

"As with handling surprises in our personal lives, the ability to bring relief and hope comes down to these 3 words: having a plan."

With this in mind, our Compassion Team decided to try something new when Hurricane Irma hit Florida. When our team called to find out what people on the ground needed, this time it wasn't money: it was man power. So the team decided to pilot a spontaneous trip with people from our church who had a variety of skill levels and just go. We wanted to not just make a difference but to learn how possible a trip like this could be in the future when calamity slams into the lives of ordinary people. This is a 1 minute video of how they made it happen:

So what were the results? Watch this 2 minute video to hear the story of Mickey and how this show of love impacted someone who's faith was teetering from the upheaval caused by the storm:

So do you have a plan? It doesn't have to be a comprehensive one, or a plan that addresses every aspect of a need. You just need to ask yourself some questions like the ones I listed below for you to chew on as we climb the Assimilayas together in times of disaster.

Answer them as a team and get ready: All you need is a plan.

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  • What does your church do well? In times of crisis, what do people in the community want to do that helps people affected by loss?
  • What kinds of things would your church be able to provide in a moments notice? What kinds of things would it not be able to provide well or quickly? Examples to consider: 
    • Money
    • Blood
    • Clothing
    • Food
    • Shelter
    • Entertainment
    • Prayer
    • Medicine
  • How could your plan involve guests at your church and people who are not a part of your church at all? How could your effort be a catalyst for connecting people in the community as well as those new to worshipping with you? How could it let those who do not share our faith in Jesus see him at close range by working alongside us?
  • What would you need to learn first? Can you mobilize a one-off team of some kind like Eastside did that will double as a focus group for learning new ways your church can meet needs simply and quickly?
Greg CurtisComment