Today we have a guest post from World Methodist Evangelism Associate Director of Education and Leadership Development Dr. Rob Haynes.
Two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey made landfall some 400 miles west of me. Just a few days ago, the eye of Hurricane Irma passed just 300 miles to my east. The two narrow misses put us at ground zero for the responding to the needs of our neighbors who have been impacted by these storms.
I am fascinated and encouraged by the outpouring of assistance that comes after such a disaster. There is something mystical about the way people will drive hours to serve perfect strangers a hot meal, muck out their flooded home, or repair a hole in the roof. People will invest considerable personal resources to do whatever they can do to help someone put lives back together. It is more than just a kindness. I am convinced that God is at work in it.
In the previous blogs in this space, the metaphor of an embrace has been used as a model for mission and evangelism. The illustration is also appropriate in disaster response ministry. Just as with an embrace, the first rule to remember in any disaster response is simple: go where you are invited to go, to do what you are invited to do, when you are invited to do it.
Many of the people who will volunteer for the relief work will be from faith-based communities. Members of Wesleyan denominations will be well-represented among them.
It would be a mistake for one to say that they are taking God to “those people” who suffered in the storm. God is already there before the volunteers arrive. He was there in the middle of the storm. He will be there long after the volunteers have gone. Instead it is best to think of our role as a demonstration of the Kingdom of God by word, deed, and sign. This familiar framework is helpful in approaching disaster response ministry.
Word. Jesus was present in the lives of those who were in difficult situations, even in the middle of the storms. The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us. What an amazing comfort to know that God is compassionate and with us through it all. Being present with others as they recover from a natural disaster is a way that Christians can demonstrate the love of God in a similar way.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus was present in the lives of others in their storms. Remember when the disciples had to awaken Jesus while he slept in the boat? He immediately calmed the storm that raged around them. (See Matthew 8:23-27) On another occasion, Jesus calmly walked through the storm and called Peter to do the same. (See Matthew 14:22-32)
Deed. Consider the various ways that you can serve. You do not have to be carpenter, plumber, or roofer to make a difference in the lives of those trying to rebuild after a storm. Sometimes, it is simply to be with someone as they try to rebuild their lives.
I recall a time that we were volunteering in the nearby Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Ivan (2004). We were working at the home of Susan, a single woman whose home was destroyed by the storm surge. Much of the debris we removed from her backyard was the contents of her neighbor’s home across the street. After about a half-day’s work my wife found a clear plastic container. She could see that it was full of family pictures. Imagine the joy Susan felt when my wife showed her the box of treasured memories. The richness of that find was not just the pictures, but the hours that my wife spent with Susan as she went through the pictures and told the stories behind each one. The two of them spent the rest of the afternoon laughing and crying on the curb in front of Susan’s home as the rest of the work team piled the contents of two homes on the street.
Sign. A seminary professor of mine used to say, “Show up in someone else’s life and pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing. God will show you how to love others. Show up and pay attention.” The same applies in responding to the needs of our neighbors. Show up. Pay attention.
When we serve others in practical ways, representing the Word made Flesh, a space is created for faith sharing. The opportunities for the embrace of faith-sharing begin to occur. Welcome the opportunity to embrace others with the good news of Jesus Christ when they need to know that Jesus has calmed the storm.