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Help that helps

Members of Churches of Christ who coordinate disaster relief ministries — and survivors of natural disasters — share what they’ve learned

Send gift cards — not 8-track tapes. 

Be ready to transition from relief to recovery. 

And bathe your efforts in prayer.

The Christian Chronicle interviewed relief specialists who serve Churches of Christ and church members who have survived fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. They offer advice for Christians who live through — or respond to — natural disasters.
BEFORE THE DISASTER
• Have a plan. There’s little time for an elders’ meeting after a disaster strikes, says Laura Cremeans of Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team. Make sure your church has emergency contacts and a basic plan.

Mike Baumgartner of Disaster Assistance CoC recommends that churches have coordinators for volunteers, supply distribution and incoming requests for aid. Make sure your congregation has access to generators and hookups for recreational vehicles. 

• Review your insurance. Don’t merely estimate the value of your church’s property, says Rick Hatfield, an elder of the Central Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Estimate the replacement costs. Also, “use your volunteer help in places that are not covered by insurance,” she says. 

AFTER THE DISASTER — SHORT-TERM

• Update your website.
It may not seem important, but the Internet is a vital link when cell phone towers are down, says Dale Hoggatt, a deacon of the 26th and Connecticut Church of Christ in Joplin, Mo. No website? Set up a Facebook group to disseminate information quickly.

• Tents and tarps. They’re useful in the early days for storing supplies in a single location and covering damaged property, Hatfield says. 

After a tornado destroyed most of Hackleburg, Ala., one church member supplied a trailer that he converted into portable showers. It was a huge help, says Mike Lane, minister for the Hackleburg Church of Christ. Another trailer was converted into a food pantry. For several weeks “we were the main grocery store,” elder Wade Hood says. 

• Don’t send clothes. Or do. Old clothes take up space, sorting time and usually get thrown away, most of the relief experts say. But Carl Williamson, lead evangelist for the Gateway Church of Christ in Holmdel, N.J., sold several truckloads of donated clothes to a local company, generating profits for additional relief work after Hurricane Sandy. 

• Pray without ceasing. Pray with responders and victims. “If you’re not praying about the disaster,” Williamson says, “then you become like a business.”


AFTER THE DISASTER — LONG-TERM


• Make the transition.
“Do they still need food, or do they need sheetrock?” asks Williamson. Pick a focus, such as helping people to refurnish their homes. Have resources available to help victims apply for grants and file insurance claims.

• Mind the codes. Your city may adopt new, firm building codes as reconstruction begins, says Kirk Garrison, minister for the Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ in New Orleans. Be careful using volunteer labor, as some of their hard work may have to be redone.

• Bible studies that last. Many of the Bible studies conducted in the relief tents didn’t produce long-lasting fruit, Hatfield says. Instead, people helped by the congregation as they rebuild see long-term Christian influence in their lives.

• Don’t neglect your congregation. “A disaster takes a toll on your church,” Williamson says. Some volunteers may feel like they’re doing more to help than others. Churches, like families, can tear themselves apart in such high-stress situations. Or, the minister says, “the struggle can strengthen us.”
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