Being a Beacon of Hope in a Disaster

Baptist churches have been getting a lot of practice at stepping up during extreme weather disasters in recent years. 2020 started with bushfires affecting large parts of NSW & ACT, VIC, and SA. That morphed very quickly into Covid-19. The news for the summer ahead is that it is very likely that we will be subjected to weather extremes. The question is: are we ready?

According to the BOM’s seasonal climate outlook, there is now an 80 percent chance of higher than average rainfall across a significant area of Australia including almost all of NSW, Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia and the eastern half of the Northern Territory.

Some churches might be feeling that they have been in permanent disaster mode since January 2020. Churches in communities across Australia have done a magnificent job of reaching out during times of great need, helping to meet people’s needs as they arise. Churches have provided shelter, cooked, volunteered, counseled, prayed, and raised money to name but a few of the responses. Being a beacon of hope and an army of community chaplains during dark times is a special gift of churches and they do it well.

Rather than something that churches pull together at short notice it is worth thinking about a much more proactive approach to this unique form of ministry. Right now, governments across Australia are already in advanced planning for the high-risk weather season. Extreme weather events coupled with global pandemics look certain to form a permanent albeit periodic part of our future.

Here’s some practical steps to think about in relation to this opportunity for ministry:

  1. Seek out opportunities to train congregation members in community chaplaincy, especially in the context of emergencies and disasters.
  2. Have a store of equipment that you can roll out very quickly to help get your church building set up to house people temporarily. This may include stretchers and portable catering equipment.
  3. Recruit a team of people who can quickly swing into action in a disaster and provide leadership quickly.
  4. Develop plans for a range of scenarios that can be quickly implemented. Remember that you can easily overlook important things when you are in a panic. Plan when everything is going well for a time when things turn south quickly.
  5. Set some funds aside to help make things happen quickly and effectively when a disaster happens.
  6. Reach out to other churches and form a network so that the church universal can link arms and work together during disasters rather than competing over turf.
  7. Do teaching highlighting the effects of a disaster on communities and the different stages they go through.
  8. Consider ways in which your church can encourage more people to study counseling and grow a team that can offer more advanced levels of support than community chaplaincy (links to articles on the effect of disasters below).
  9. Establish a store of equipment that can be rolled out very quickly to help with post-disaster cleanup. These items usually become scarce during a disaster. These may include jerry cans for water, chainsaws and associated spares, hand implements, rope, tarpaulins, etc.
  10. In your teaching opportunities help your church to understand the theological significance of being a beacon of hope in your community during disasters. It isn’t about PR.

When disaster strikes we get to rub shoulders with the community in a way that doesn’t normally happen. It is a time for us to build bridges and form relationships that are stepping stones to a greater openness to the Gospel.  When all is dark around us its time for us to shine.

Do an audit of your readiness to respond and plan accordingly. Be prepared to swing into action within hours.

Further reading on the effect on communities during disasters: