Local churches play an important role in times of disaster, but they often don’t know how to help, a Christian humanitarian aid organisation has said.
Samaritan’s Purse, best known for its Operation Christmas Child project, also provides disaster relief to areas affected by floods, fires, cyclones and other disasters.
It does this by deploying volunteer teams to areas that have already received help from emergency services and first responders.
By partnering with local churches, the teams care for the physical needs of disaster survivors with the goal of long-term recovery.
Since 2009, the organisation has deployed emergency relief to 21 locations across five states, responding to 31 disasters.
So far, 1712 volunteers have worked with 148 church partners and helped 18,563 people impacted.
So far, 1712 Samaritan’s Purse volunteers have worked with 148 church partners and helped 18,563 people impacted.
Being hands and feet
Disaster Response Manager Daniel Stephens believes local churches have a unique role to play during tough times.
“We believe that the local church plays a very important role in times of disaster, specifically of being able to connect with their community,” he told Hope 103.2.
“(They are) able to get out and meet the needs of their community as they’re suffering.”
“The folks in the church can then go out and just be the hands and feet that are helping in their community,” – Daniel Stephens, Disaster Response Manager for Samaritan’s Purse
Samaritan’s Purse helps to “equip and empower” local churches with resources and materials that they need to help their community.
“(This is) so that the folks in the church can then go out and just be the hands and feet that are helping in their community during their times of suffering,” Mr Stephens said.
“I’ve been doing disaster-relief work for almost 14 years now and everywhere that I’ve been in the world, the number one question that I get from people is ‘what can I do to help?’”
Common needs of communities and churches
The immediate needs of communities in disaster-prone areas often revolve around safety, shelter, basic food, water and clothing, Mr Stephens said.
“And then, once those basic needs are met, it’s getting more into the recovery stage of helping folks get back into their homes and to sort their lives out again.”
For churches, however, providing assistance is not always straightforward, according to Mr Stephens.
“I’ve been doing disaster-relief work for almost 14 years now and everywhere that I’ve been in the world, the number one question that I get from people is ‘what can I do to help?’.
“It’s usually because they know the people are suffering and they need help but they just aren’t sure how they as a church or an individual should engage.
“One of the things we try and do at Samaritan’s Purse is to try and… bridge that gap of knowledge and make it easy for the churches and for believers to get involved and help.”
“We’re a disaster-relief organisation but really we are a hope-bringing organisation and disaster relief is the tool that gives us access to the people.”
Finding the poor and marginalised
For most churches, the difficulty comes from a lack of knowledge, Mr Stephens said.
“It’s not that churches don’t care about the poor and marginalised, they genuinely do, it’s more that they don’t know who the poor and marginalised are in their community.”
However, some churches are better at this than others, he said.
“The churches that we have worked with that have been really phenomenal about this are ones that don’t wait until a disaster or an emergency happens to try to build a program and build support.
“It’s ones where it’s built into the DNA of the church that (they’re) a church that exists to love and support (their) community.”
“The mission is all about people and coming in and meeting people where they are and caring for them.”
Dealing with the aftermath of a disaster involves more than just meeting the physical needs of the people, according to Mr Stephens.
“We’re a disaster-relief organisation but really we are a hope-bringing organisation and disaster relief is the tool that gives us access to the people, but at the end of the day we’re there to bring hope to people who are suffering.
“We always tell our volunteers that we never want to confuse the tool for the mission and the mission is all about people and coming in and meeting people where they are and caring for them.”
Become a Hope Builder
The opportunity to impact someone’s life forever doesn’t happen very often. As a Hope Builder, you are impacting hundreds of thousands of lives every single day with a message that turns lives upside down.
And now with our partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, your impact can reach even further.
Inspired by your giving – a supporter of Samaritan’s Purse will provide a Disaster Recovery Kit on your behalf to a family in need. This partnership is all about maximising our impact as a community. You keep Hope going on the air, and you will bring hope to life on the ground.
When you give each month to Hope, be reminded that a family hit by disaster has experienced God’s love and care through this moment of partnership with our friends at Samaritan’s Purse.
Hope: when and where you need it.