When I see the heartbreaking images and hear the stories from the Hurricane Harvey floods, it’s easy to fall into despair.
As a Christian who’s worked on disaster response for nearly 20 years, I feel the God-given tug on my heart to help. Like many, I often picture the huge operations run by the government or the Red Cross. The needs frequently overwhelm the resources.
But through the church, through fellowship in Christ, we have another way to respond.
Food for the Hungry often works through local churches – where they exist – for disaster response:
Church buildings provide safe spaces to work.
Church members’ social networks multiply FH’s effectiveness exponentially.
Local Christians have trust with local leaders that outsiders don’t have.
I saw this power of the local church personally after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed as many as 280,000 people. FH sent me to Medan, Indonesia to help secure an operations base we could use to respond to hard-hit areas of the country.
With the help of local Korean and Chinese Christian churches in Medan, I was able to procure supplies like dozens of local cell phones and SIM cards. These same churches were able to send believers to the relief zones, who were culturally equipped to work within one of the strictest Muslim cultures in the world.
Act locally, think globally
I’m a former resident of San Antonio, Texas. I frequently drove the three hours on I-10 between San Antonio and Houston. On the web, I see photos of places that are underwater, where I worked, played and made friends. I went to life-changing conferences at the George R. Brown convention center, which is now a huge evacuation shelter. Some of my friends had to evacuate from places they never imagined would flood. Ties between San Antonio and Houston run deep.
One longtime FH partner church in San Antonio has built disaster response into their missional DNA. Their proximity to the Gulf Coast and their large facility are gifts they want to use to help the community. Right now, First Presbyterian Church (FPC) in San Antonio, Texas, is on standby as a Hurricane Harvey shelter specifically for medical evacuees. FPC works closely with local authorities to serve as needed, and to maximize their dormitory and restaurant-grade kitchen facilities. And the church is working in partnership with county authorities to accept donations of a carefully-curated list of new clothing items.
“The Good News is that the Kingdom of God is at hand,” says FPC elder Harvey Howell, who acts as liaison with community and denominational disaster responders. “Our job is to show it. A shelter from the storm is a great way to do it at so many levels.”
Not just responses, but prevention
FPC also showed how a U.S. church can have an effect on disaster response overseas – but on the prevention side. During their 10-year relationship with an FH community in the Dominican Republic, the church helped them become more resilient to disasters.
In a community near the Haitian border called La Meseta, FPC members built latrines and helped strengthen the community’s spiritual life. But they also helped provide the community with a water system. Community water systems ensure that families have clean drinking water, of course. But having a water storage tank like the one that FPC provided, also helps during drought. Tanker trucks can deliver water into the community when the rains fail, because there’s a place to store it.
La Meseta is looking beyond the tank system to provide water, with hopes of eventually being part of a larger municipal water system. With the help of a church, they took a first step toward disaster preparedness.
FH is partnering with South Texas churches to respond to Hurricane Harvey. Please consider helping us equip the Body of Christ by making a donation to help Hurricane Harvey victims.