The Role of Hope in Recovering From Disasters

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
—Romans 15:13

Like many, I found the news reports of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation both horrifying and inspiring. Victims. Survivors. Heroes. A community loving one another through what may have been their worst nightmare. Faith.

And now Harvey’s victims must recover, an inevitability I’ve seen so many times as I’ve traveled the world on behalf of Food for the Hungry.

Generous donors have made it possible for Food for the Hungry to help by supporting our church partners.

During my travels, one truth remains consistent: hope precedes recovery. As Americans attend to the overwhelming physical needs of disaster’s victims in Texas and around the world, we cannot forget to help instill the vital ingredient of hope.

Why is Hope Important?

Without hope, people merely survive. When events beyond our control—floods, droughts, conflict and illness—steal everything a person owns or loves, it’s easy to sink into debilitating depression. I’ve witnessed it. There is nothing as heart-wrenching as looking into the eyes of a struggling person who has stopped hoping for a better tomorrow.

With no hope, people stop trying.

I’ve also seen how just being there to offer help and to recognize that each person has value can replace a blank stare with a spark of hope. It gives people the energy to begin trying again, as it did with a pregnant woman I met in northern Uganda who received the gift of seeds and a plot of land. It gave her a renewed sense of energy as she cleared the land with a machete.

Food for the Hungry works in hard places, both physically and spiritually. Our staff meet people as they recover from both natural and made-made disasters. In the process, we’ve learned a thing or two about hope. We even measure its emergence. We know that hope has emerged in a community when we see that people:

  • Perceive that the worst is in the past
  • Believe they can recover from critical incidents (disasters, marital issues, death of a loved one, etc.)
  • Feel that they have some level of control over their present
  • Support others in their journey
  • Have a vision and goals for their own future
  • Are planning to reach their goals for the future
  • Have enough self-esteem to believe they can achieve their goals
  • Know they have value in God’s eyes

Where Does Hope Begin?

While I fully believe that hope’s source is Jesus, I also know that Jesus uses people to give hope. It comes through kindness, generosity, training and merely being there.

In the words of Shep Owen, FH’s head of Relief and Humanitarian Affairs:

“Mere response, helping in whatever way we can, values [the victims’] humanity. It helps them remember that they have value as a human who is made in God’s image. There is something deeply whole about being recognized and valued.”

When the TV Cameras Leave

When the water recedes and the death count is tallied, the TV cameras tend to leave a disaster area. But a new struggle emerges for a disaster victim: rehabilitation. Fortunately, many in the U.S. have insurance. Our federal government will help people replace what Harvey’s victims lost. Non-government organizations and the faith community will step in. We are among them (see what we’re doing).

I pray for a continued sense of unity. May Americans not lose the unity that marked the first few days after the storm.

How You Can Be a Giver of Hope

  • Pray. Victims of disasters need immediate life-saving help. They also need long-term help for recovery, and that requires both hope and action. Pray for God’s provision through ordinary people like you and me.
  • Act locally. I thank God for the many Americans who used their boats to help rescue people from Harvey’s flood. Some drove hundreds of miles to do so. I also give thanks for Food for the Hungry partners. Your generous donation can make you giver of hope to desperate people in Houston.
  • Give globally. You can also give hope beyond the borders of the U.S. There has been an equally devastating flood in Southeast Asia, where FH works. The result of heavy monsoon rains, the flood has victimized 24 million people and killed over 700. Hope might be a tad more elusive for these folks, who survive on the brink, have no flood insurance and whose governments offer little in terms of safety nets. Food for the Hungry is helping people in Bangladesh with life-saving emergency food and clean water, along with facilitating clean-up and recovery. You can be a giver of hope here by donating to FH’s disaster response efforts.