We’ve all been watching with concern these past few days as Hurricane Harvey ravages the countless communities and cities in South Texas. News reports continue to indicate that the storm’s heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding are unprecedented and exceeding expectations. According to ABC News, the United States government is responding through the deployment of 3,000 national and state guard service members, as well as 500 vehicles and 14 aircraft.
Although it’s reassuring to see the ways government workers and officials are responding to the disaster, many still wonder: Is there anything we can do to help?
From far away, it’s easy to feel powerless. Often, our immediate reaction is to try to find the nearest plane, train or automobile, hitch a ride, and hope that our presence at the scene of the crisis will ultimately help serve those in need. Or it is the exact opposite—we wring our hands and do nothing.
But before you or anyone you know tries to go and singlehandedly rescue victims of Hurricane Harvey, or just sits anxiously watching the television, here are some practical ways you can help right now.
As Christ-followers, our first inclination in times of struggle and strife should be to fix our eyes not on the disaster itself, but on the God who promises his steady presence throughout it. When we find ourselves slipping into dangerous patterns of worry on behalf of those in need, prayer is our best and surest remedy.
We can get together with fellow believers and pray for the safety of victims and their families. We can ask God to stop the storm and cause the floodwaters to recede. We can allow the Lord to reorient our hearts and fill our minds with the truth of his promises. He is, after all, the One who can calm every storm, whether off the coast of Texas or in our very hearts.
Second, start thinking about the next opportunity today, and make plans to become a trained volunteer.
Before a natural disaster is even on The Weather Channel’s radar, we can begin preparing for it. Becoming an informed, well-trained volunteer will help ensure a more effective, timely relief effort in the event of natural disaster.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) formed Praise and Preparedness to help congregations prepare themselves and their communities for natural disasters. According to Janay Stargell, GEMA’s faith-based and nongovernmental organization coordinator, communities often look for “churches to help respond” during times of recovery from a disaster.
As Christ’s church, this gives us an incredible opportunity to be his hands and feet when disaster strikes, both at home in our own communities and beyond. But it takes preparing before the moment of crisis. You may not be ready to help on the ground today, but you could be ready for the next time of desperate need.
Third, be well-informed.
Even for those prayerfully engaging from a distance, it can be surprising how valuable knowledge of the situation and the victims’ specific needs can be.
Sending socks, winter parkas and snow boots is a nice gesture for victims of a snowstorm, but it would do nothing to assist victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Harvey today. That example is a bit silly, but it makes a point.
There is always a way to find out the specific needs of a situation, and with all the communication today, it shouldn’t take you long to research. It’s a simple rule: Before you try to help, make sure you know who you’re helping.
Last, consider donating.
Even if you can’t go, you can help the relief workers and supplies get where they are most needed. In many cases, donations are just as effective as volunteer work. That being said, before writing the check or mailing the cash, it is important to find reputable, well-established relief agencies that are on the ground at the site of the disaster and ready to work.
An arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board, promises donors that 100 percent of the donations they receive go directly to disaster-relief efforts through their SEND Relief division. Groups like Convoy of Hope pride themselves on their rapid response times to ensure that victims get the help they need precisely when they need it. Also, consider other organizations that have good protocol during disaster relief times: Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Samaritan’s Purse, ReachGlobal and CAMA are just a few.
The One We Look To
Matthew 8 is a powerful example of what we are called to do when disasters are imminent and we feel out of control. We look to Jesus, the One who, by speaking a word, can calm all storms. We must focus on him, knowing that he is in control. And we do that by praying.
And then we follow him into the disaster as he guides—whether through getting preparation for the next disaster or finding creative ways to help in the current crisis. Whatever he calls us to do, we can be sure of one thing: He isn’t calling us to do nothing. What we see on television affects us whether we live in Texas or not. When one suffers, all suffer, and this can be the time when the church shines the brightest.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham distinguished chair of church, mission and evangelism at Wheaton College and the Wheaton Grad School, where he also oversees the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.