By Richard Norman, Disaster Response Coordinator
At New Light UMC in Lawton, Steven Clay of Carnegie UMC maneuvers carefully while trimming a tree damaged by the late January ice storm.
What do you do when disaster strikes? Some of us have a personal plan, but many of us do not. Some of our churches have a disaster response plan, but many do not.
How many churches have established a plan to communicate with each other and care for their most vulnerable members when electricity, phone lines, water and other systems fail? How many congregations are prepared to serve as Red Cross shelters in times of disaster? How many would know the steps to function as a Point of Distribution for Oklahoma Emergency Management or the Federal Emergency Management Agency?
Many more of our congregations should be prepared to do these things. Within the most recent one-year span, tornadoes, wildfires, and snow and ice storms have all affected Oklahomans. Each community’s resources are crucial, as well as outside aid.
Who better to provide relief than those of us who know how important it is to find a "shelter in time of a storm," to quote an old hymn? Those who trust in God as our "refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1) want to extend help especially in times of disaster and difficulty.
This is possible through adequate and proper education, preparation, leadership, training, and communication.
To assist victims of disaster, Oklahoma United Methodists can choose to be a part of the short-term fix and/or the long-term ministry of compassion and hope. To be effective in either of these areas, we must understand Disaster Response and Recovery Ministry. This ministry is an amazing story of God’s people carrying out God’s mission.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 radically changed the face of responding to needs of disaster victims in the United States. And in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Haiti, we witness another struggle to effectively assist in settings of large-scale tragedy. Over the years we have also been changed by disastrous events much closer to our homes—the May 3, 1999, tornado in Moore, the bombing in downtown Oklahoma City, and natural disasters in communities across our state such as the recent ice storms in southern and southwest Oklahoma.
As a result of the realities of these types of disasters, the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church decided in 2006 to begin a full-time Disaster Response Ministry as an integral part of Oklahoma’s Volunteers In Mission (VIM).
n The OKVIM Disaster Response Ministry works in coordinated partnership with two agencies of the denomination: UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteers In Mission).
n It also collaborates in another key partnership that unites a number of faith-based organizations, governmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations to respond to disasters. This partnership is called Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).
VOAD promotes "cooperation, communication, coordination, and collaboration" in an effort to bring a responsible response out of the chaos that a disaster spawns.
United Methodists understand that any response must be based on the needs of the victims. The reality of a disaster’s impact can be seen in their faces; we remember that our responses are always focused on the needs of those people and not ours.
We should not focus on who gets there first, what we think the victims need, or what makes us feel good, nor help only when it is convenient for us.
In Micah 6:8b, we hear God’s agenda for people of faith: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Humility is a great resource in a disaster area. The most effective disaster response volunteers are those willing to learn. They understand that, while a response has many common and necessary elements, the type of response needed and the trajectory that the response takes is based on the constant and changing needs of the victims.
The bigger picture and the unseen story of successful response include education, preparation, leadership, training, and communication when put into place prior to a disaster.
There is a tremendous amount of preparation, funding, training, and commitment that emergency and early responders must have before disaster strikes.
After the TV cameras are turned off and the food lines and shelters close, the victims are still living lives in chaos and are still in need. They need help beyond the immediate steps of emergency and relief responses. Many times it takes months to get their lives to a new normal, and they need help in that process.
They need us to be in ministry with compassion and hope when other aid groups have moved on.
In order for us to be most effective in our response, we know our focus. To be a ministry of compassion and hope in times of disaster, we consider these things:
n What is best for the victims at that particular time;
n The ultimate goal of the response, not the current popular news; and
n Becoming effective responders by being aware of and committing to the preparation, funding, training, and commitment necessary before a disaster strikes.
With your focus clear, you say: "My church wants to help. What should we do?"
Experience has taught us that everyone who wants to be involved in the ministry of disaster response first should be given enough information to make an educated decision on how they can best serve.
Thus, the OKVIM Disaster Response Ministry will soon be offering "The Basic Disaster Ministry Course."
This will be a prerequisite to all other OKVIM disaster response training and will help you/your church decide your best avenue of involvement in helping those in need.
During the first four years of our OKVIM Disaster Response Ministry, we focused on Early Response Teams (ERTs). From that we have learned those teams are extremely valuable if, and only if, they respond early. These are highly specialized teams and prepare much like volunteer firefighting squads in communities. ERTs will always be vital in our Disaster Response Ministry, but they will not be the only response and sometimes not our primary response.
2. Proper preparation
This preparation includes helping yourself and your family by learning and developing a "Family Disaster Response Plan." Next: helping our churches each develop a "Local Church Disaster Response Plan." Another step of preparation is assisting your community in developing a Community Organization Active in Disaster (COAD).
3. Developing leadership for responding
The strength and success of the 20-year history of Oklahoma VIM can be traced to one major aspect of the ministry: Team Leaders. Any success in responding to a disaster must involve leadership. We need Team, District, and Conference Leaders for the many areas of disaster response.
Your OKVIM ministry office will offer the necessary training to prepare our Disaster Response Ministry leaders and other responders. Training will be in partnership with UMCOR, UMVIM, and other Oklahoma VOAD partners.
We need every United Methodist’s assistance in communicating the bigger picture, the importance of education, the preparation requirements, the leadership needs, the training responsibilities, and the ongoing story about the ministry of compassion and hope.
You are the essential element to effectively helping victims of disasters. When Oklahoma churches commit to educate, prepare, lead, train, and communicate, then we truly can offer Disaster Response Ministry effectively to people in their greatest time of need.
(Portions of this article are reprinted from "A Ready Hope: Effective Disaster Ministry for Congregations," by Kathryn M. Haueisen and Carol H. Flores, with permission from the Alban Institute. Copyright ©2009 by The Alban Institute Inc., Herndon, Va. All rights reserved.)
Related story>>> Volunteers help neighbors in southwest Oklahoma
Oklahoma Volunteers In Mission:
800-231-4166 or 405-530-2029
Richard Norman, Rnorman@okumc.org, 405-530-2032
On the Web: www.okumcministries.org/VIM/Disaster_Response.htm
|Youth members at Anadarko-First UMC pack health kits for Haiti. From left are: Sunshine Carrion, Martha Carrion, Dalton Thomas, Heather Gaddis, Austin Post, Daniel Ahshapanek, and Andrew Ahshapanek. Carrie and David Witte are youth sponsors.
||In January, more than 15 volunteers from the Perry and Orlando churches assembled 122 UMCOR health kits for Haitians, after the two churches pooled cash donations to purchase the supplies. Pat Hoerth, Ann McFerron, and Larry and Myrna Moore shopped for the items.