When a crisis or disaster strikes a part of the world, we have an opportunity as sending churches to respond in ways that can provide real help to those in need. We also have a great opportunity to draw people’s attention to the lost world. The prompting of this particular blog is the earthquake in Turkey and Syria that took place in January 2023 in the heart of the largest unreached people group without their own country, the Kurds.
While there are many ways to respond to a crisis or disaster, here are three overarching categories:
The most important work we can do in the midst of a crisis or disaster is to pray. In any situation in life this would be true, and it is certainly true in these circumstances as well. In the event of an earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, or war, there are forces at work that are out of our control. As missions leaders, we have the opportunity in these crises to draw people’s awareness to the issue and to lead them in prayer. Here are some ideas for inspiring prayer among your people:
Social Media - Present the opportunity to gain more information and to pray on social media. Whether it's on a specifically missions-focused social media page or your church’s social media page, direct people on how they can pray. I have found the BBC website to be a great place to find reliable information on issues around the world. Consider linking posts to a trustworthy news source where people can find more information.
Sunday Mornings - Take time to pause on a Sunday morning to pray. This simple act will draw awareness to the situation, remind people of the importance of prayer, and, of course, bring the pleas of your people before our loving Father. Bradley Bell developed a prayer liturgy for his church to use in response to disaster, which can be accessed on our website here. This resource was developed specifically for the Afghanistan and Haiti crises in 2021, but it can easily be adapted for any crisis.
Acts 11:29–30 gives us a great example of how to respond to a crisis or disaster with our resources. When a famine hit Jerusalem, the church at Antioch gathered resources from all the disciples, based on what they could each do, and delivered it to the church in Jerusalem.
Present your people with the opportunity to give. You could do this through gathering funds to give to an organization or giving your people a direct link to give. Either way, give them the opportunity to give. The church at Antioch offers an excellent model for how to do this because:
They presented the opportunity to the entirety of the church.
Each person had to wrestle with what they could give.
They gave their funds to other believers.
Given how large many of our churches are and the understanding we have of all the world’s issues today, this model might not be feasible to reproduce. Though your situation may be different from theirs, we can still take principles from this passage as we encourage our people to give when a crisis or disaster strikes.
For some churches, their giving philosophy is to give to the church and let leadership decide how funds are divided out. If this is how your church operates, I would still recommend presenting the opportunity to give when a disaster strikes so that members of your church have the opportunity to go above and beyond their tithe towards an effort.
To prepare your church financially for when a crisis happens, I would recommend having a line item in your global missions budget dedicated toward crisis or natural disaster relief. On average, I have found there to be generally one to two domestic and one to two international crises or disasters a year. In our church we decided as a leadership team to give up to $5,000 for a crisis or disaster, so we budgeted $15,000 each year to be prepared for when they would strike.
The point here is not to copy the numbers mentioned above but to take the principles:
Be prepared in your budget.
Think through the approximate number of disasters you have observed and would like to be ready to give towards.
Choose, based on the size of your church and your budgeting philosophy, how you would like to give.
In regard to giving, whenever you know someone on the ground in those locations and you are able to give directly to a church in need, that is always best. More likely, however, you won’t have a direct connection when a disaster strikes. While it can feel a little distant to give through bigger organizations, it is often the most impactful way to do so (more on this soon). Consider a few organizations like:
Send Relief (www.sendrelief.org) is the Southern Baptist Convention's relief wing. It is one of the larger relief organizations outside of the Red Cross. An added benefit to working with Send Relief is that they often work through their IMB missionaries to provide relief to churches in need. Those churches will be part of the recovery well after the organizations have left, and supporting them will help their gospel efforts for years to come. Even if you are not Southern Baptist, this is a great organization to give through.
Samaritan’s Purse (www.samaritanspurse.org) is a reputable, non-denominational organization that provides relief in the midst of crises.
A final consideration is when to give funding. While giving funds right away is beneficial, this is also when the majority of funding will come into the organizations. As the crisis moves away from the global stage and the focus moves from relief to rehabilitation, there is often a greater need for funding. Consider saving your gift or providing another gift to the crisis after it has moved out of the news cycle.
While well-intentioned, sending a team of people not connected to an organization can have a low or negative impact to relief efforts in a crisis. If you desire to send people to help in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, be sure to work through a reputable organization like the ones mentioned above. These organizations will all be coordinating with FEMA domestically, or UNOCHA internationally. These organizations provide a high-level view of the disaster and can deploy people toward the greatest needs.
Like preparing your budget, it can be valuable to be prepared with a disaster response team from your church made up of people who have the appropriate training, flexibility, and availability to be deployed to areas affected by a crisis. Often empty-nesters or the recently retired are a great mobilization pool for this type of effort. Many denominations have crisis response team efforts that include training and mobilization towards disaster relief. Start by connecting with your regional leader and consider developing a team of people ready to respond to needs both domestically or internationally.
We live in a fallen world, and as we wait for Jesus to come back and make all things new, creation will continue to groan. May our churches be found ready to respond to the physical and spiritual needs of those going through hardship around the world so the light of Christ can shine into their darkness.
What other ideas do you have of organizations to partner with during a crisis, ways to pray, respond, or give? Add them to the comments below.
Mike Ironside is the International Program Manager for Reliant Mission. Prior to that Mike was the Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, for eight years, where he got to experience the ins and outs of being a sending church. He served on staff with Cornerstone 2006 to 2022 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Content for the Upstream Collective. Mike, his wife, Emily, and their four kids continue to live in Ames, IA, and serve at Cornerstone.