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Our daily news is often focussed on the rising numbers of the dead and protecting as many people as possible. As a people of Hope, we not only respond to the current crisis, but a future of faith and renewal.
Our United Methodist Committee on Relief UMCOR (www.umcor.org) has been responding to disasters for 80 years and they have gained much wisdom about disasters.
This article is adapted from "Phases of Disaster Recovery: Emergency Response for the Long Term" found at Relief Web and published in 2013. (By Melissa Crutchfield)
Stages of recovery don’t always follow a neatly defined course or timeline. Natural disasters like a Tornado, Flood or Earthquake happen rather quickly. Pandemics are very different. They are more akin to a season of famine or our evolving Ecological Disaster.
A Pandemic takes on the form of an ever widening web of "mini-disasters" that start with death and grow! It brings new and just as deadly widespread "collateral damage" to areas such as the economy, the social web and personal mental health, ...and of course the local church with it's nature built around social gathering.
Pandemic stages of recovery don’t follow a neatly defined course or timeline. New consequences and devastation of families continue to surface throughout the process.
Phases of Recovery
I. IN THE MIDST OF A DISASTER:
Simultaneously Assess the Situation / Search and Rescue
a. Initial Stage:
Information gathering is crucial. Start "Needs Assessments" and "Resource Evaluation" as soon as possible to determine the scope and nature of events on your local situation. Investigate available resources, partners in ministry, regional and local assets of your affected community.
b. Search and Rescue:
The initial search and rescue phase can last for hours or even days after a "normal" disaster. The time during or immediately following such an event requires a fast response in order to save lives in imminent danger.
While natural disasters may run days and even weeks, a pandemic unfolds on a slower timeframe and may even have "waves" of death and consequences over mants and years. Response is a Marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and provide times of renewal and rest for all your leaders.
Gather your leadership and go over the core values of the church and remind them that they are already Citizens of Heaven (Phil. 3:20) so that no matter what fears and dangers they face, we belong to a higher reality than our physical world around us.
Question: Who are your most vulnerable, what are their needs and what resources do you have to help them? Have you organized to contact them? What is the "Good News" of the God's Kingdom of Heaven that you and show them?
II. EMERGENCY RELIEF:
Meeting basic needs simply to keep people alive, the Emergency Relief phase usually begins in the immediate aftermath of a disastrous event. In a Pandemic it's both immediate and on-going.
People's basic needs are for food, water, shelter, basic necessities and medical care / medications. Those with severe injuries or chronic care eneed urgent medical help as w
Emergency relief can go on for a very long time or can end fairly quickly, depending on the nature of the emergency and the resources at hand.
In a Pandemic, relief comes in the form of organizing transportation, making masks, continuing to feed the hungry, providing economic relief for those out of work and helping people access the resources provided by the state and other sources.
Normal church activities take on a heightened meaning: weekly worship, programs, groups and meetings are suddenly ended. Alternative means to speak the Good News of God's Kingdom in Jesus Christ (The "Gospel") must be found. Normal business actives are interrupted but still need to be addressed.
Churches that can adapt, be informed of evolving resources and help people be connected in the midst of isolation will keep much of their community together.
Virtual Worship, Prayer Groups, Studies will provided needed content for the faithful as well as an entry point for newcomers. Always think of the follow up steps for both groups.
Question: Has your church council reorganized around the crisis and is it operating in an "Emergency Mode?" Have you invited newly motivated members of your congregation to join in the leadership discussion?
In all cases, the relief phase of a disaster willtransition into the recovery phase, when systems are put into place and people are no longer worried about survival but can turn to rebuilding their lives and finding spiritual meaning in the "New Normal."
III. EARLY RECOVERY:
In Early Recovery, the affected population is in a more stable period of a "New Normal". They have a place to get food and water and as they "Shelter in Place." They can go about their daily lives, but are beginning to resume some kind of normal existence.
It may be very difficuly in that jobs may be lost, family stress can grow and isolation become unbearable.
Unemployment may grow and last months. Schools are disrupted. Children are also isolated. Mental Health and Spiritual Questioning begins to be significant..
It is important to continue to assess the community's continuing vulnerability, evolving access to resources, adaptability, and other considerations.
Your ministry team needs to evaluate and plan around what is working and what is missing in it's efforts.
Question: Who can you invite in to help your leadership? (Inside the church /outside the church?) Who is starting to get burned out from the stress? How are you caring for them?
IV. MEDIUM TO LONG-TERM RECOVERY
During medium to long-term pandemic recovery, the work of building long term changes to the social fabric continues. When can children return to school? Will Adults have renewed opportunities to improve their livelihoods and restore their family economies? Can life begin to feel stable once more?
Forming online Small groups can be a critical part of medium to long term recovery. Leaders can be trained, new "issue oriented" small groups can be formed, all on line. "Seed groups" can be ready to reach out once the limitations of "Safe at home" are lifted and people can gather in groups of 10-25..
Question: Can the church contribute a sense of spiritual insight and interpretation to the events that have effected so many people? How can the church mentor new leadership in the midst of the recovery?
V. COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Community development is a means of improving on the “normal.” Traditionally, this phase is not considered part of emergency response. But development is a priority for UMCOR, and remaining in an area after a disaster provides opportunities for important long-term engagement. Local churches are that long term presence that can "fill the void" the disease leaves behind.
Now that the population is back to a relatively stable daily life, we can begin to address some of the root causes of circumstances that pose significant challenges to the community.
Community development is simply learning from the past and preparing for a future event.
This may include hunger and poverty programming, livelihood strengthening, and education and empowerment initiatives.
Vision and capacity strengthening are core elements in achieving these goals—training and empowering people to see Hope even in the midst of devastation, to take greater ownership of their lives and their environments. The goal is to put communities that have already suffered in a position where, in the event of another disaster or in the face of persistent challenges, they won’t fall back quite as far.
VI. DISASTER RISK REDUCTION
A relatively new part of the relief-to-development process is Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). In order for this model to work, community action needs to happen before a disaster strikes.
A community needs to reduce its vulnerabilities by taking concrete action and adopting specific behaviors.
Disaster Risk Reduction isn’t only about individuals’ being prepared—it's about reducing the risks throughout a whole community—removing the hazards that would compound a community’s distress in an emergency.
Thought about your church gatherings and your response to the pandemic of 2020?
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(based on Psalm 23, 27:3; Isaiah 41:10, 43:1-3; Luke 12:32; John 10:11)
I am the Good Shepherd. Fear not for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your Lord. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will hold you up with my right hand.
Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod for protection and your staff for guidance, they comfort me.
I am your Shepherd. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, you shall not drowned. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me. Lord You stretch out Your hand against the wickedness of my enemies, and your right hand saves me.
You are the sheep of my pasture, I have created you, formed you. Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine.
Though many should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. You, Lord, are the Shepherd of my soul. You are my light and my salvation., You are the strength of my life. How great is Your goodness toward those who trust in You!
I am the Good Shepherd and I say to you “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. He has determined to give you the Kingdom.”
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
— from Jeanie Rose’s Pray the Scriptures website.
A simple hand out to help neighbors help neighbors.