What NOT to do for Disaster Relief

If we have been paying attention to the news, there seems to be a natural disaster every week, Florida, Guatemala, Indonesia, etc. If you are like me and you have a heartbeat, you want to help, you want to reach out and do something. It is amazing how these types of situations remove all barriers in our lives. We no longer care about people’s political views, cultural views or religious views. We actually see everyone as human beings who are in need who are created in the image of God. If we carry that perspective forward, we can do incredible work in helping people after disasters. My friend and co-author DJ offered some great insight into what to do for disaster relief (DJ’s blog) Let me line out somethings we should NOT do.

  1. Don’t go rogue. We are very capable people and we can easily do things on our own. But when it comes to disaster relief, don’t do it alone. Partner with a local church, NGO, or organization that is already on the ground doing good work. If your church is part of a denomination, contact your denominational leaders and find out what churches or missionaries you can partner within the disaster area.
  2. Don’t give clothes, shoes, teddy bears, medicine, animal supplies, blankets, unless your on the ground partner says they need them. Ask them for specific needs. When they give specifics, don’t go above and beyond those. Stay within their needs. When it comes to disasters, they say there are two waves of the disaster, the actual disaster and the wave of stuff these effective areas receive after that they have to sort through.
  3. Don’t give your leftovers. One of the most frustrating things is when we see a need and we go through our closets and find “gently used” clothes, shoes, and other items and ship them off to those in need. This mindset is, “well it’s better than what they have now.” This statement might be true, but is it the best we can give them? 
  4. Don’t go to the affected area unless God calls you. This can be hard for many of us. We want to be close to the action. We want to be where people are hurting to offer our help. I would encourage you to find a local disaster relief organization, Red Cross, etc. Volunteer and get trained there so when the next disaster happens in your area, you will be ready to go. They may even call you in for disaster relief in other parts of the country. 
  5. Don’t take a short-term mission trip to the devastated area alone. See #1. Find a good, responsible ministry or organization that is already on the ground, who knows the needs that can move you to the right neighborhood and community to best help. If you started helping a church community in the relief time, join them in the recovery/development time. Don’t be a one and done. Remember good reciprocal short-term mission trips is committed to long-term relationships.

It is good and right for us to want to help, to serve, to love others. This is how God has created us. Yet in our overzealousness and deep desire to want to help, we can do more damage to these communities if we are not responsible. Go, serve, love, and do it with excellence.

Photo Credit: Eric Thayer for the New York Times


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