Editorial: Faith community always ready for immediate/long-term roles in disasters
The network of faith-based disaster relief, response, long-term recovery and preparation stretches around the world, the United States and into every neighborhood. It is in place to respond after not only hurricanes and floods, but also earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, mudslides, wildfires, refugee migrations and wars.
In every locality, people in congregations are ready to offer their buildings, resources, organizing skills, connections and volunteers to meet immediate needs of disaster victims for food, shelter, clothing and medical care, usually working in collaboration with the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other emergency responders. The wider network knows each other's roles and strengths.
As people in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands and Georgia still recover from 2017 hurricanes, others in the Carolinas were flooded by Hurricane Florence, Typhoon Mangkhut cut across the Philippines into Southern China, the 2018 wildfire season cleanup was still underway and Rohingyan refugees still suffer.
There's always a new natural or human caused disaster. There are always people ready to step up to help, even after the wind-blown, rain-soaked reporters of "monster storms" move to the next big story.
A visit to websites of various churches and faiths reveals new and ongoing efforts. While media attention stirs donations immediately, much of the long-term recovery efforts fall to the faith groups' regular giving, special appeals and volunteer teams.
For example, a recent appeal in the email newsletter of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest suggested how to give to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and offered ideas on how individuals and congregations might help families who have lost everything.
Annual appeals of eight Protestant denominations in One Great Hour of Sharing/Week of Compassion goes to empowerment/development and disaster relief.
For example, American Baptists are sending 11 volunteer teams from September to December, and 17 teams have registered for 2019 to help in Puerto Rico.
Church World Service, an ecumenical, cooperative ministry of 37 Christian denominations and communions provides ongoing self-help, development, disaster relief and refugee assistance. It has congregations prepare hygiene kits, emergency cleanup buckets and school kits, so they are ready to distribute as needed.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) emergency staff in the Caribbean are working with Caritas partners to distribute emergency supplies in communities hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean. Catholic Charities assists with disasters in the U.S., including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Episcopal Relief and Development, and church partners assist in long-term recovery, rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructures and restoring power. Its short-term relief includes housing assistance, medical supplies, gas and gift cards, so people can make purchases to support the local economy. It works through dioceses in the affected areas.
The faith community not only helps rebuild uninsured housing, but also provides emotional care for caregivers and help with volunteer management, networking and advocacy. The long-term response is usually delegated to faith groups that have a presence in disaster areas, coordinated with local church volunteers in the U.S., often through Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters, which form local VOADs.
Lutheran Disaster Response collaborates with congregations, synods, social service organizations and others who know local needs and how to address them in relevant, effective ways, accompanying survivors as communities are rebuilt. It provides emergency salary support and respite relief for pastors, so they can provide pastoral care to their congregations and communities.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance offers "Stories of Hope" to celebrate "Christ's love and God's transformational power" at work through volunteer work teams, those offering hospitality and assistance, to encourage those who serve and strengthen those who are recovering.
United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, American Baptist, Foursquare, Orthodox, Jewish, Reformed Church in America, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventist websites visited told similar stories of how they are regularly ready to help with response and rebuilding.
Hurricanes, tsunamis and devastating fires may be short-lived, but their effects linger for many years. Faith communities are there to walk alongside people.
Mary Stamp – Editor
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October, 2018