Are we (the church) ready for disaster?

After Hurricane Katrina (and those that followed close on its heels),  more than 40,000 refugees arrived in the city of Austin. We, the church, was not ready. Many pastors were turned away from the refugee centers because they were not equipped or authorized to deal with the situation. (Plus there was some very negative feedback because a few pastors who had gone into the centers had told people that the situation they were in was a result of sin and that God was angry with them.)

A man called Daniel Geraci decided to do something about any future, similar situations. He approached the Red Cross and found out what was needed to train Christians so they can help in disaster situations. He contacted many of the churches in the city to see if they would be prepared to offer training to their people. As a result, now, a few years later, Austin is one of the most ready cities in the nation to cope with disaster. Thousands of Christians have been trained in basic skills to meet the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of those affected by disaster. If a future "Katrina" occurs, Christians will be those running the relief centers. Already, the Austin Disaster Relief Network has been called on to help in situations of flood and fire locally, and is sending teams to places like Joplin to help following the tornadoes that devastated that city.

I am currently taking the ADRN courses that satisfy the government's requirements to be allowed to help. (I've sensed for some time that Christians need to be prepared.) It's making me think a lot about readiness.

Are we, the church, prepared? Natural disasters open people up to the Gospel–think of the increase in church attendance after 9/11. Disasters are occurring all around the world with unprecedented frequency.  Are we, the church, including the simple/organic church, ready? Would we know what to do? Do we have the skills necessary to offer spiritual and emotional support to others in crisis situations?

Should we be getting ready? What would that entail?

5 thoughts on “Are we (the church) ready for disaster?”

  1. In Australia a large amount of social welfare is undertaken by churches (denominations), especially the Salvation Army and the Uniting Church. For example, the not-for-profit sector provides 65% of institutionalised aged care, with governments and private (for profit) providing the other 35%. Many other social services (emergency care, drug rehabilitation, family support, etc) are also provided by churches with government financial support.
    I understand that when emergencies occur (bush fires, floods, storms, etc) the various church agencies have agreed on who will supply what support (food, clothing, housing, counselling, etc).
    Within this structure, individual christians and churches can find a place to serve, either regularly or in an emergency. So in our previous church, we made our facilities available to AA and other 12-step groups and a mental health support group, ran a cafe church and men’s night for some of the same people, and offered (again with government financial help) emergency food and cash for people in need, plus prayer and other support. We saw this as worth doing in itself, but we also saw a number of people with dependencies and mental health and social issues choose to follow Jesus, and many of them are still in the faith to this day, a decade later.
    I understand the situation is different in the US because somehow government support for the weak and disadvantaged is sometimes not seen as christian but as “socialist”. That would suggest to me that it is even more important for christians to be involved in social welfare and emergency support, to make up for this lesser commitment by government and taxpayers.

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  2. Hi Felicity,
    The topic of the church’s readiness to deal with disaster, harvest, and hostility is an important matter. Indeed, are we ready? And are we ready in the “right” things? Regarding simple/house churches, my view is that they will not be ready THEN, until several things happen NOW.
    First, simple/house churches must trust, partner, and network together NOW so that coordination and cooperation can happen THEN, just like the early church (Acts 2:41-47, 5:12, 5:42, 20:20).
    Second, simple/house churches must relearn true hospitality to strangers by taking them into their homes and proving for their needs NOW so they will know how to do it wisely THEN, just like the early church (Matt 25:31-46).
    Third, simple/house churches must give generously and share money and material resources with each other and others NOW so they will be able to do so THEN, just like the early church (Acts 2:44-45, 1 Cor 9:1-14, 2 Cor 9:1-7).
    And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Otherwise, simple/house churches will be caught unawares, not knowing how to deal with hostility, harvest, or disaster.
    Rad Zdero, author of LETTERS TO THE HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT and THE GLOBAL HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT

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  3. UnkleE, I love the way the church involves in social issues in Australia. Things like street pastors and all the other things you describe are a wonderful way for the church to involve in the community.

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  4. In 1999, we saw a real coming together in our community as some of the home church folks worked with people in the traditional church to prepare for y2k. We had meetings to share resources and information, sometimes guest experts which discussed gardening, food storage, etc. and demonstrations by those who had purchased equipment or products that were of interest to the group. Some large quantities of food (a semi load of wheat, for example) were purchased and distributed.
    Overall, it was a really good example of how HIS body can come together in a pinch and pool resources to prepare for a possible failure of infrastructure. Above all, it established and built up relationships in the Christian community. Perhaps that was the most important part, as many of those relationships are still flourishing today.
    Rad Zdero’s post was a great encouragment to revisit the subject of preparation, and seek Father’s heart for this time.
    I’d like to add one point to his thoughts— the ecclesia in America generally doesn’t relate to the corporateness of the body of Christ. We are brought up to be independent and to self reliant—instead of interdependent, which is the Biblical model. Many home church folks that I know prefer NOT to network, as it begins to look like the traditional church (just as some of the Rad Zdero posts note) in their minds. This may require a change in philosophy (or vision) for the home church people (particularly) to begin to prepare corporately.
    I believe that the greatest asset in an emergency IS the community of believers, functioning together to demonstrate the heart of God to one another and to the others in the extended community.
    Thanks for the excellent insight!

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