Many of you and your churches want to help the people of Joplin, but you aren’t sure what to do. LifeBridge Christian Church has had several experiences in dealing with natural disasters (e.g. our county had the worst fire in Colorado’s history last year, and our neighboring town of Windsor had an EF-5 tornado in 2008), and we would like to share with you what we have learned.
Let’s start with the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm” and look at three things not to do:
1. Don’t Send Clothes, Toys, or Furniture
The US is the most over-clothed country in the world. Already, there are trucks being sent there, by well-meaning churches, filled with clothes, toys, and furniture. There is no place to put the furniture now, and Joplin will get way too many clothes and toys.
2. Don’t Send a Team of Volunteers without a Local Organization Giving You Guidance
Don’t go to Joplin uninvited. One FEMA representative has already said that if Joplin doesn’t get a handle on the volunteers they will end up with a bigger crisis than the one caused by the tornado. Coordinate with a local Joplin organization before sending a team of volunteers and make sure your being there is of more benefit to them than work.
3. Don’t Forget Joplin When the Next Tragedy Hits
This EF-5 tornado was the single most devastating and deadly in US history for three reasons: 1) There were two more tornados inside the one large tornado; 2) The tornado moved very slowly even though the winds were incredibly fast; 3) The tornado didn’t skip around as tornados usually do; rather it just stayed earthbound through the center of the city for miles upon miles. Don’t delude yourself into thinking Joplin will be back to normal in a few months; it will take them years to recover.
Now let’s look at three things you and your church can do to help Joplin.
1. Pray for the Affected and those Ministering to Them
During the next few weeks, many who lost homes and loved ones will see their grief turn to frustration and anger—at their circumstances, at the government, at the insurance companies, and at God. Pray for them now and then. Also, don’t forget to pray for those who are ministering to them. They are caring a heavy load, and they will need spiritual, emotional, and physical strength to endure it.
2. Forge Contacts with Reputable Organizations
Disasters like these bring out the sheep and the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Work with people and groups you can trust. You can send money to the Red Cross, but you may prefer to work directly with a church in the Joplin area that you know and can rely on. Start with the relationships you already have. If you don’t have a direct relationship with a church, LifeBridge is working with College Heights Christian Church—they are a key distribution point that the Red Cross, FEMA, and the state of Missouri are working with. You can visit their website at chcchurch.org to read updates.
3. Make a Long-Term Commitment with Your Short-Term Trips
After a disaster like this, the devastated area goes through three stages:
Ironically the need for volunteers is inverse to what the area experiences. Normally a lot of people want to volunteer at first, but that is when the professionals (police, fire, EMT’s, gas and electric workers, etc.) are needed and not volunteers. Then when many volunteers are needed for things like hanging siding, installing lawns, planting trees, painting, and so on, the interest in helping subsides. Begin planning how you can help Joplin this fall, at Christmas and next summer.
Some people may ask you about Joplin and ask, “Where was God?” You can tell them, “He is in the recovery.” Come and join him.
(Image credit: Forestpark.tv)