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Before flooding Louisiana with ‘help,’ read this

A resident transfers his belongings into a boat after being rescued in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, on August 15, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-STETZER-OPED, originally transmitted on August 16, 2016.

(RNS) Thinking of jumping in your car and driving to Louisiana to help those affected by the flood? Wondering how you could mail some food or hand-me-down clothes to help? If you answered yes — don’t do it.

Yet, that is.

Hit the brakes for a moment before acting. Here’s the deal: Volunteers and resources are going to be needed. In a recent Humanitarian Disaster Institute study, we found that social and spiritual support was vital to fostering resilience among flood survivors.

However, being a spontaneous unaffiliated volunteer (what we call an SUV) is likely to cause more harm than good. Sending supplies before communities are ready to receive them isn’t the way to help either. You will likely only add to the chaos happening there.

Here are  some suggestions that will help you help without causing unintentional harm.

Pray

As people of faith, we are called to pray for others, especially for those in need. We don’t think that saying “sending our prayers” is a meaningless gesture; we think it’s a God-ordained means of calling out for divine help. In times of disasters we shouldn’t see prayer as an afterthought, but rather as one of the most powerful things we can do to help.

It’s encouraging to see that a LifeWay Research study, conducted in collaboration with Max Lucado, found Christians regularly pray for others impacted by natural disasters. We have example after example throughout the Scriptures of the power of prayer, and should pray with confidence that our prayers will be heard. Today is a good day to pray for suffering people in Louisiana.

Know why you want to help

You are more likely to run into or cause trouble if you get involved in disaster response for the wrong reasons. Make sure you are helping for the right reasons. Good reasons for wanting to help should be inwardly motivated: You want to help others for the sake of helping others. That is, you want to help because you believe it’s the right thing to do.

On the other hand, if your desire to help is being driven by external motivations, like the possibility of personal gain or benefit, you should hold off from going. Examples might include wanting to help to be “in the action,” to see what is going on, or because you want to be known for doing “good.” Well-meaning but poorly thought out help is the kind of help that no one needs.

Help through proper channels

Look for ways to help through established relief groups, ministries, community organizations and the like. After Hurricane Katrina, a local leader told our Wheaton College research team, “Volunteers were one of the biggest blessings after Katrina, and volunteers were one of the biggest curses after Katrina.” By “curse” he was referring to those SUVs again — spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers — who just showed up on their own accord and ended up adding to the havoc.

SUVs are more likely to get in the way of trained responders, divert resources from survivors and contribute to the already taxed local infrastructure. If you want to do something now, that’s good, but realize that some people are better-prepared to act now because they prepared last year. So, partner with them.

Make sure your help matches actual needs

We should give the people of Louisiana time to voice their needs and then respond accordingly. Before you help, make sure you are keeping your focus on the survivors’ actual needs. A good rule of thumb: “Aid happens where need meets resources.”

Don’t assume you know what survivors need. If your help is going to make a positive difference, it needs to match up with what the actual needs on the ground are right now, and with what those needs will be later. If it’s about you — what you have to give or what you can do — it’s probably not going to help them.

Give financially

Giving money now is one of the most effective ways you can help in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe. Yes, giving a monetary donation can feel a bit sterile. Yet, giving to those on the ground means your dollars will be utilized immediately and where they are most needed. To make sure your dollars go to work, give to established relief organizations and nonprofits.

Local community organizations such as churches may also start to manage donations, which can be another great place to give. Many of these groups already possess the skills, know-how and resources to respond effectively. They are also more prepared to handle the large influx of donations to follow.

Research has shown the vast majority of giving is done in the early phase of disaster response and often runs dry during later stages of recovery. Thus, consider giving now and again later.

When to send resources and deploy

There will be a time and place for you to deploy or to give resources. But for most people reading this article, now is not the right time. Likely in the next few days or weeks, specifics on what is needed and how others can help will start to emerge. Organized ways of connecting and getting involved will also start to become available. The time to act is after this sort of information and avenues for volunteering become apparent.

We can relate to wanting to pick up and go help as images from the flooding have begun to emerge. However, you need to resist the urge to self-deploy or to send resources, at least for the moment. A desire to help is good; doing things that actually help is better.

(Jamie D. Aten is founder and co-director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and Disaster Ministry Conference at Wheaton College in Illinois. His latest books include, as co-author, the “Disaster Ministry Handbook” and, as co-editor, “Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma.” Follow him on Twitter at @drjamieaten or jamieaten.comEd Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College and is executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism)

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Ed Stetzer

About the author

Jamie D. Aten

10 Comments

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  • “It’s encouraging to see that a LifeWay Research study, conducted in collaboration with Max Lucado, found Christians regularly pray for others impacted by natural disasters. ”

    What a load of horseturds! LifeWay Research is the propaganda arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. A sect frequently in the pocket of political conservatives who usually advocate dithering and contributing as little as possible for those seeking relief from disasters. Praying is literally the least one can do in such situations. Praying for people who have been in a disaster is a way to pretend one is taking action to help, but not actually render assistance.

    Giving money now is one of the most effective ways you can help in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe. Yes, giving a monetary donation can feel a bit sterile. Yet, giving to those on the ground means your dollars will be utilized immediately and where they are most needed. To make sure your dollars go to work, give to established relief organizations and nonprofits.

    YES, definitely!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    If you really want to help people in such situations, donate to the Red Cross. Send money to them. It gets converted to things that will help victims.

  • Prayer?
    Maybe they can follow the bolivian example, and have some people break some rocks instead.
    Meanwhile holyHoly tony Perkins’s house in Louisiana was destroyed. When god wants to punish someone, he send natural disasters. So what was the message to Tony?

  • Donate to Nechama. The name means Comfort. They take heavy equipment to a needy disaster area to clean up institutions and homes. Right now they’re beginning the cleanup of a food pantry in Baton Rouge so it can resume distributing food. But ask first if you want to go help Nechama. They train their volunteers.

  • I worked in New Jersey during the recovery from hurricane Sandy. The Salvation Army provided a number of direct services to victims. Frankly, for many residents in Louisiana, it is time to get serious and move to higher ground and to states with more opportunities. Many folks who left because of Katrina have found better opportunities for employment, education and quality of life elsewhere. Further with climate change (all you deniers settle down), rebuilding in areas that are now more prone to flooding is not feasible in the long term. It may sound harsh, but sometimes we all need to pick up and move on.

  • All money donated to Red Cross goes into their general fund and only a small amount will trickle down to the people in LA. People I know that live in an area hit by disaster tell me Red Cross was gone just as soon as the TV cameras were gone; Salvation Army stayed around for weeks with their food trucks and other relief.

  • Can’t say much about the red Cross there.

    The point is if you are not in the area, donate cash to relief charities and organizations. It has the best chance of becoming useful. Donating goods means they are spending time, money and resources to get it there. Prayers are not help.

  • After the great rains of 93, Valmeyer, Ill., move the entire town 400 ft up on to on the bluffs instead of rebuilding on the bottom land. The town has really begun to grow.

  • The RC is not a Christian organization. As a believer, I want to make sure that relief assistance is coupled with the sharing of the gospel. The Salvation Army is just one example of a Christian humanitarian relief organization that is Christian based and will share the gospel as well as meet the needs of the victims in tangible ways.

  • As someone genuinely concerned with the lives of people outside of sectarian concerns, I find your urge to mix relief with proselytizing in very poor taste. If Christian humanitarian efforts depend on such self serving sectarian interests, it undermines the whole notion of charity and relief. It becomes simply an underhanded recruiting drive.

    People in need of aid can do without coercive tactics and sermons to receive it. You may feel the need to spread the gospel to everyone, whether asked for or not, but many do not. You can’t have a truly humanitarian effort if you are not treating it’s recipients with some measure of respect.

  • Spuddle, you do realize that Max Lucado and other members of LifeWay Research Study aren’t all Baptist, right? If you give to an organization then you need to research that organization even the Red Cross. Their CEO makes 6 figures a year and there is a large amount of upper management. When I worked with Katrina survivors did you know that the Red Cross charged them for food and water and several other organizations did not? When the Salvation Army was waiting on more food to arrive shortly and families couldn’t afford to eat the Salvation Army went and bought the food from the Red Cross and gave it to the survivors. My Dad was in Korea and Vietnam and the Red Cross was there but they charged for everything and they still do. The Salvation Army CEO makes appx 1/7th of the salary as Red Cross. What about the BGE with Franklin Graham that sends out Chaplin’s and counselors as well as loads of needed resources? Or the local churches that have a national affiliation that sends them the financial aid and later material resources and food to be distributed? Prayer is the foundation of faith! How many people have prayed for you that you don’t even know about because someone saw a need in you and prayed. God, you know that it is a capital G, doesn’t rain down disaster and sickness to punish people. Natural disasters are a part of our world and has been going on since the beginning of time.
    For those of you that don’t study geography or can read or listen and retain, the area in Louisiana that flood is not in the flood plain and has not been flooded in so long that they are not required to have flood insurance.

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