It would take more fingers than I have to count all the times one of my boys has fallen down and skinned his knee, arm or other appendage. In more serious crashes (meaning it involves crying and an initial hysteria that cannot be soothed by words or hugs), the only possible cure is a quickly-delivered band-aid. Suddenly all is better and the world-ending wound is quickly forgotten. The stage is now set for the “safety talk,” the one you hated to hear as a child, and promised you would never repeat as a parent. However, you reason, at this point (you have delivered a band-aid, offered a few hugs and spoken several “there, there, everything is okay now”) you have earned the right. My boys will endure; they will even accept mom and dad’s preaching once their wounds have been attended to.
This light-hearted example is a good illustration of how to share the love of Christ during times of disaster. With the onslaught of the December 2004 tsunami, and the devastation of both Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast off the United States and the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, the world has been inundated with natural disasters. Food for the Hungry, , has responded to each and has done more than just put on some band-aids.
In Times of Joy and Grief
Pastors will say that the two occasions when people are most receptive to the gospel are at weddings and at funerals, during times of celebration and during times of grief. From this, one might conclude that disasters are times when people are open to addressing spiritual issues. This certainly rings true of what happened when the United States World Trade Center was destroyed on 11 September 2001. The U.S. suddenly went from a playful “take me out to the ballgame” to a prayerful “God bless America.”
Considering the implications of this, we must ask, “How does this balance with our call to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep?” It would seem this command asks us to come alongside people and experience what they are experiencing, to feel their pain and to dance with their joy. It is difficult to imagine that Christ would want us to approach the situations and circumstances of people around us as bystanders. He would not want us to be communicators eager to preach our message while standing at arm’s length, but not willing to run and get bandages for those who are hurting. To do this would resemble a Pharisee rather than our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Helping Others in Times of Need
We must consider two things when helping individuals whose lives have been devastated by a natural disaster: (1) the audience and (2) the timing.
Audience. There is a distinct difference between onlookers and victims. In the Hurricane Katrina disaster, most of the United States looked on with shock and sadness. Most realized they were not impervious to the whims of nature. Meanwhile, those who were directly affected were not reflecting; they were fighting for survival. Even after the hurricane passed and the rubble settled, these people were mourning, wondering how their lives would be restored. These individuals were not much different than the man who was beaten and robbed and left lying by the road in Luke 10. Those affected by the hurricane had similar needs. They needed us, the onlookers, to:
•Stop and help
•Bandage the wounds
•Deliver them to safety
•Provide for their care and recovery
Timing. While we must always be ready to share the hope that lies within us, many times we share that hope by helping someone recover from a tragic situation. By doing this, we not only bring glory to God and fulfill his command to love our neighbors, we also provide a bridge to Jesus Christ. And amazingly, people who have been touched by someone helping them often walk across that bridge. They become curious and are often drawn to a love that perhaps they had never experienced. Below are a few testimonies of people in the Gulf Coast who were helped by “onlookers”:
“I’ve never met such a loving and wonderful group of people…I didn’t have insurance and I didn’t know what I was going to do. Thank God. He sent some angels my way!”
“These volunteers are helping me out a lot. They work hard and are some of the most loving people anybody could ever meet.”
“I must say that this experience has been a real test of faith… For me, I’ve learned to trust God more. The only words I can come up with to describe how I feel about the work these volunteers are doing to help us are ‘I’m truly grateful.’ They didn’t have to do this, but they did. This is truly what God’s love is all about.”
“This is truly what God’s love is all about.” This statement is worth repeating. These individuals have endured great hardship and have seen family members perish and homes blown away. However, in the midst of the hardship, they have also experienced hope, a hope that came when their cries were heard and others came alongside them, offering kind words and a few band-aids.
The water, food, clothing and other “patches” of support (just like with my two sons) are more than band-aids. They are bridges to hope and healing. Imagine the man who was helped by the Good Samaritan. Would his heart have been prepared to listen to what the one who saved his life had to say? My guess is that he would indeed be wanting, and willing, to hear what he had to say. This is also true today. Thousands of other people who are being helped in the midst of their devastating circumstances are also wanting and willing to hear what their helping onlookers have to say.