Dealing with Natural Disasters: 8 Steps Your Church Can Take

The earthquake in Japan and resulting tsunamis remind us that the Earth is groaning.  What is God’s perspective on natural disasters?  I need to leave that theology for another time so that I can provide these needed resources tonight.

If you are a church or individual with missionaries or loved ones overseas in the midst of a natural disaster, here are eight steps to take:

  1. Contact your missionary using every means possible, realizing that communication channels may be unavailable.  Also consider being considerate and contacting others that the missionary is safe.
  2. If you can’t get a hold of the missionary, contact his or her sending agency, church, friends, or other family members to find out if they have made any contact.
  3. If you get through and establish their safety, ask how you can assist them personally or how you can help them to use the disaster as a community outreach.
  4. Consider raising emergency funds on behalf of the missionary.  Being a part of a natural disaster or in a war zone may cause the missionary to incur additional expenses.
  5. If you are the sending church, work with the agency to help the missionary determine if he or she needs to evacuate or relocate temporarily.  A haven of safety may be needed or in some cases an area may be so devastated that the missionary cannot be of any assistance at all.
  6. If the missionaries return to their home countries, be flexible with them, get them some debriefing, and help to provide for their needs.  They may be traumatized, hurting, or confused.
  7. Help the returned missionary to determine a plan and time frame to return to the field.
  8. If the vision grabs your heart, become involved in the disaster relief efforts personally or through financial gifts.  Or consider what role you or your church or your family could play as the events on the ground shift from relief, to recovery, to development.

You can see the importance of being prepared beforehand with a contingency plan.  A contingency plan foresees the possibility of horrific events and helps the missionary to be prepared for any situation.  A contingency plan includes escape/evacuation routes, pre-planned locations to evacuate to, levels of escalation, the handling of extra money and special documents, special planning, etc.

A Personal Story of Being Caught Up in a Disaster

I lived in Macedonia right after Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia and during the time that Kosovo exploded.  God had blessed our ministry abundantly but the parties at war didn’t care about that.  As a result, 200,000 Kosovar refugees fled into our backyard.  Long story short:  our teams were given hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish a food outreach to Albanians and Gypsies.  Our ministry changed entirely, overnight.

Previous to that, Americans came under attack by the locals so the expatriate community evacuated.  We hung out in Greece for several weeks.  This evacuation was unplanned and we did not have the money for a hotel and food.  We shared the need and our support base and other friends sent us over $1,000 within a week so that we could pay for these extra expenses.

After our term was over we returned to the US but did not receive adequate debriefing from our agency or our church.  Six months later we were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.  Just saying…that the eight steps listed above are important steps to undertake and if they are not undertaken there are consequences.

Relief for Japan

Converge missionaries in Japan are all safe and we have established a relief fund.  If you’d like to contribute go here:  Japan relief fund.

I’m not an expert on these issues, but I have a lot of personal and professional experience in disaster relief and development.  If you have questions I’m happy to try and help or point you in an appropriate direction.

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4 Comments on “Dealing with Natural Disasters: 8 Steps Your Church Can Take”

  1. John Mehn Says:

    Thank you for posting this timely information. I would add two things. 1) Check at the missionaries website. If I have internet I would post there first rather than answering dozens of emails or phone calls. I have been posting daily at my site
    2) As with the issue of evacuation #6 I would also consult with the mission agency regarding #7 and #8.


  2. Anitra Carbo Says:

    Thank you Brian, this is great practical advice. God Bless & comfort our missionaries in Japan and the people the minister too.


  3. Brian Stankich Says:

    A field missionary contacted me with a good point to add. In under-developed nations where the infrastructure is lacking, the last thing you would want to do is call the missionary during a crisis. Having lots of people call like this would put undue strain on the system (you probably wouldn’t get through anyhow). Instead, contact the sending agency to see what they know. Hey, that’s me!


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