How Churches Can Aid in Disaster Recovery

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How Churches Can Aid in Disaster Recovery

Guest Blog by Michele Louviere

I will never forget my first day back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I remember sobbing as I toured my beloved city seeing devastation that I never dreamed possible. On that day, I had no hope that our city would recover. However, as most people now know, New Orleans not only has and is recovering but, in many ways, has become a healthier place than before the storm happened.

 

The main reason for our recovery has been the unbelievable, sacrificial service of believers and churches from around the country who even today continue to serve our community. Not only has our city physically recovered, but also great emotional and spiritual recovery has happened as well.

 

In the last year, I have been honored to serve in many post-disaster communities (Texas, Las Vegas, California, and Puerto Rico). Just like in my community after Katrina, the churches and faith-based organizations are the ones on the front lines serving those impacted by the traumatic events, such as hurricanes, mass-shootings, and wildfires. 


Because trauma can happen at any moment in any place, churches need to be ready to minister to those impacted by man-made and natural disasters by understanding the following keys to healthy disaster recovery:

 

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#1: Disaster recovery is a marathon not a sprint.

 

After a disaster, many people want to respond. Churches need to be very purposeful about what roles they want to play in the recovery process. Most churches are already working at capacity, so doing disaster recovery work involves making new priorities and saying no to other ministry events/programs.

 

In the aftermath of a disaster, people tend to go into a crisis mode, since the need is so great. Churches need to be strategic about the role they play and encourage members to practice healthy self-care to avoid burn-out.  Most post-disaster communities will need the local churches’ help long after the short-term agencies have left town.

 

#2: Churches need to be good at the ministry of presence.

 

Sitting in suffering is so hard to do.  To really help people recover from the devastation of disasters, the church must be equipped in the ministry of presence. When believers can demonstrate the loving, gracious, kind heart of Christ to those who are suffering, people begin to heal. Research shows that if traumatized people have a safe place to vent and feel heard, then they are much less likely to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a traumatic event. Certainly, believers need to be trained in trauma recovery, but the most important part in helping people heal is being present in people’s pain.

 

Living Grace Groups have been started in the disaster communities listed above, which has allowed hurting people to have a safe place to heal.  When people are provided with a gracious place to work through their emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physical and spiritual traumatic responses, they are very open to the message of the Gospel.  Before churches can “fix” the deeper sin problems, they must learn how to first “sit in the ashes” with broken people, demonstrating God’s great love.

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#3 - Collaboration is a must for successful disaster recovery.

 

One common mistake that churches make after a disaster is to try to work solo. Most disasters are massive and require good collaboration.  When a disaster happens, pastors, churches and organizations need to come together to divide the recovery effort. Oftentimes, a community will have amazing resources but no one knows about these resources. Pulling together a resource list to provide to hurting people can be life-changing. A strong collaboration is needed between the mental health community and local churches. Often, professional counseling services are needed to help people heal from traumatic wounds left behind after the “storm” has passed.

 

Every day, communities are experiencing all types of man-made and natural disasters. As believers serving Christ, we must become experts in suffering. Disaster recovery is, in many ways, the great mission field of our times. Helping those who have been traumatized heal allows us to bring the heart of Christ and His Gospel into broken lives.


Michele Louviere, M.Div, LMFT, is a trauma and marriage/family therapist in New Orleans, Louisiana, working at The Refuge 18-2. Michele also works with American Association of Christian Counselors helping with their Project SUSTAIN, a roadmap for helping heal communities impacted by man-made and natural disasters. For more information about Michele, click here. Michele also trains others in areas of disaster to facilitate Grace Groups in the affected communities.

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