When Christian mission organization’s get involved in disaster relief the crowd becomes divided. One question is are we promoting the “social gospel” over the gospel of salvation? A second question: Are we actually hurting the communities that we are trying to serve?
Disaster relief is the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a crisis.
I have experienced Christian response to poverty and suffering in many different contexts throughout the world. I love learning from books and other experts on the subject. I have discovered that meeting people’s needs is a beautiful manifestation of the gospel of Christ when applied correctly.
Relief is a manifestation of the gospel
Mission ONE’s partner in the Middle East distributes food to refugees from neighboring countries. A Syrian refugee once asked him, “Why do you give to the Christian and to the Muslim?” Our friend explained that Jesus Christ is concerned for all the peoples of the earth. God shows no partiality. Jesus died to show mercy to the lowly. His church is bringing reconciliation to those who are suffering through his love and mercy, regardless of background (James 2:1-13).
Mission ONE recently raised about $20,000 to help a city in Southern Syria that was recently attacked by ISIS. Through our partners in the area, Jesus Christ and his Church have gained a good reputation among the Druze people in Syria.
Relief should be short-term
Unfortunately, there are many situations in which relief is misapplied. If you ever travel to Mumbai, India you will experience an abundance of beggars. Mumbai’s metro population is estimated at over 22 million people. Of these people, 41% are living in poor communities known as slums. Material poverty is obviously a huge issue in Mumbai.
But begging has become more than a means for survival for the destitute. It has become a lucrative “profession.” Investigative reports reveal the wealth of many beggars, with some of them able to invest in real estate estimated at over $1 million each year. Gang leaders exploit children with brutal consequences to those who do not perform. The Indian government has used PSAs to warn about giving cash to beggars; this caused the beggars to innovate ways to keep the money flowing. Unknowingly, my wife purchased a large quantity of milk for a woman and her baby, only to see the Indian woman return the milk to the shop in which it was purchased. A system has been created to ensure profit for both shop owners and local beggars from people’s generous ignorance.
An industry has been built on the misuse of relief. The good intentions of generous people been used to sustain poverty, oppression, and shame. But… can you imagine how the kingdom of God would be impacted if those same people used their gifts to glorify God? Their unique marketing abilities, creativity, and understanding of economy would cause their community to flourish. Dignity and honor would be restored. Unfortunately, there is little reason for change in the slums. Years of well-meaning generosity have created a culture where many do not feel the need for dignity in their work. Therefore, they are missing out on an opportunity to glorify God through work.
Mission ONE believes that relief is a temporary solution to stop the free-fall of a community in the face of disaster or fatal circumstances. As soon as an individual or community stops the descent after a disaster relief funds cease. Relief is replaced with strategic projects to rebuild and help their community flourish long-term.
Relief is needed in desperate situations
My first trip to Nepal ended a matter of days before the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked the country in April 2015. In October, I returned with hopes of transforming communities through training and education. I was going to help people realize that God had given them assets to use to rebuild their communities. However, the circumstances proved to be very different than I had imagined. Nearly 9,000 people had been killed and 22,000 injured. Many were homeless, without access to adequate food or water. Many others had their jobs disappear with the destruction of their place of work. They needed help and they needed it NOW.
That experience quickly pushed me off of my high horse to gain a better understanding of “relief.” In 2012, Brian Fikkert wrote an article in response to the need for aid in the U.S. for victims of Hurricane Sandy called Helping Without Hesitating. In it he says, “During such a time of crisis, immediate relief is the appropriate response. When a hurricane strikes a population center, people will be helpless and many times in danger. There is a need to halt the free-fall. Relief is the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis. Such a response is intended for moments when the receiver is largely incapable of helping himself.”
The earthquake in Nepal saw a surplus of relief workers come to the aid of those in need. Much of the relief was provided by followers of Christ. Thousands of people were saved because of the mercy of the Lord. The love of Christ has compelled many in Nepal to sing his praises!
When facing life-threatening crises, Mission ONE’s indigenous partners help to “stop the bleeding” in their communities. We thank God for our financial partners who have allowed us to help thousands facing crises. Having compassion for those in need comes from the heart of God (1 John 3:16-17).