Responding to natural disasters as Christian men
By Thomas Guenther
There are few phenomena which shake our world more than a natural disaster. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other forces of nature ravage the land and our cities, killing people and marring lives. Recently, tornadoes ran a jagged swath through Oklahoma; the pictures online and in newspapers have been stunning. Entire neighbourhoods became piles of rubble and 24 people, including children, are dead. And surely, the  floods in Calgary, Alberta have given many of us a new perspective on how disaster can often hit close to home.
I’ve never seen a tornado or a landslide or an erupting volcano but I’ve been close enough to severe weather to be afraid of what nature can do. It makes me feel small and very fragile. As I remember my experiences with major storms I understand a macabre truth: all the control I think I have is pure imagination. I can no more command the weather than I can dig my way to China.
Now comes the reassurance.
“God is in complete control.”
“He sees and knows everything that is happening in the world and in each one of our hearts.”
“He’s in the big picture and in the details: the storm and the response.”
When I see the devastation left behind by recent floods, tornadoes and earthquakes I sometimes wonder, “Why did this happen?” Though I am stunned and straining for answers, God has all the power and He is a good God. I know God is good because He says so and multitudes of people say so.
Consider these biblical truths:
God made the world (Genesis 1-2:2);
- God stopped the Earth from rotating around the Sun (Joshua 10:12-14);
- Jesus calmed a storm by speaking to it (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25).
- God sent His Son to die for us when we wanted nothing to do with Him (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4-5;8-9).
Pain and trouble are inevitable and persistent realities. And just because we suffer tribulation doesn’t mean God isn’t present or loving. It actually fulfills his promise to us through Christ, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).
It’s not God’s job to make life a bowl of glazed peaches; he’s never promised an easy, crisis-free existence. He has, however, guaranteed to be with us forever and faithful throughout every part of our lives: the disaster and the rebuilding.
Though it’s difficult to admit given the  floods that occurred in Alberta, our country is a relatively safer place to live, compared to much of the world. Many regions are commonly impacted by tsunamis, earthquakes, massive floods, tornadoes, and volcanos all the time. Perhaps because we in Canada do avoid most serious natural calamities we can’t really empathize with the plethora of victims they create. If men want to be serious about Jesus’ call to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for the ill we cannot ignore God’s children who suffer because of where they live.
Several organizations are on the ground, helping those who survive such calamity and are forced to McGyver their lives back to a sustainable level. Abe Kauenhofen, who volunteers with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) says many are incapable of recovering their livelihood because their insurance can’t or won’t pay enough to even rebuild their house.
“The work was good,” says Kauenhofen, who has worked as a plumber to rebuild homes in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. “But, the people we encountered were broken-hearted, they didn’t know what they could do. We were able to give them hope.”
As men, we often want to help with this sort of practical assistance, even if we’re not tradespeople. We want to do more than write a cheque. God made us highly visual and I believe we feel more comfortable and more satisfied if we can see the difference we’re making.
MDS only works in North America, and does accept volunteers to serve at its reconstruction projects. But it’s an exception to the norm—very few organizations let people actually get involved in person, especially if the disaster or crisis is overseas.
Andrew Burditt, communications director for The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda, says that often, best thing to do is send money. The Salvation Army does take volunteers but they have specific requests and requirements for the people they select. It isn’t as simple as showing up and signing on.
John Longhurst of Canadian Foodgrains Bank (a partnership of churches and church-based agencies which work to end global hunger) agrees.
“We don’t send volunteers overseas because the last thing a devastated area needs is 20 North Americans who aren’t used to the climate, food, customs, or language. They just get in the way and take up more resources.”
Longhurst says the best thing people can do is to find a solid agency and open their wallets. “Donate generously. CFB partners with locals to rebuild their towns and cities themselves. The best thing we can do is ask the locals, ‘What do you need?’ because they will know best.”
It may seem counter-intuitive to us, that we can help the most by staying away. Most men want to get their hands dirty: find a problem and fix it at the source. How can men really help if they’re not present?
If you believe God is calling you to go and help, pray about it. If not, sending money is an effective way to help those working directly with the suffering. Whether you are led to go or stay, connect with an organization you trust. Don’t assume you and a couple of friends can just show up with your tool belts and save the day. It’s more complicated than that.
Don’t worry, if God really wants you there, He’ll make it happen. He is good and He is faithful.
Thomas Guenther works, writes freelance, and lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
THE ARTICLE ABOVE WAS FEATURED IN THE JULY 2013 ISSUE OF SEVEN MAGAZINE. GET SEVEN FREE