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Reaching out to Victims of Trauma and Disaster: What churches can do to help
By Focus On The Family
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(Developed in Response to Floods in Queensland, Australia)

Almost every day large numbers of people around the world are affected by events that result in trauma: accidents, shootings, bombings, terrorist attacks, and natural phenomena such as tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and fires. The floods in Queensland, Australia, are one of the most recent examples of this type of disaster. What can the Body of Christ do to help the victims? How do we reach out to them with practical demonstrations of God’s love? Here are a few ideas and suggestions.

Principles for Ministry

Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) tells the story of a man who cared enough to minister to a victim of a sudden and traumatic attack. This brief vignette, while teaching several important spiritual and theological lessons, provides us with a clear example of what it means to reach out to those who are suffering in the aftermath of a physical disaster. Among other things, the Samaritan models the following principles:

  • Compassion: Effective ministry involves a willingness and an ability to enter into the feelings and experiences of other people. In reaching out to flood victims, we have to realise that there is no quick and easy way to deal with the effects of a natural disaster. The events of the past several weeks have pushed thousands of people beyond the limits of anything they’ve ever had to endure before. Our first responsibility is simply to be with them and listen to them in their pain and confusion.

  • Selflessness and Flexibility: It’s important to realise that this will require time and effort. In order to help the bleeding man by the roadside the Samaritan had to interrupt his journey and put his own plans on the back burner. We can’t follow his example unless we’re willing to make the same kind of sacrifice.

  • Emphasis on Practical Needs: Resist the temptation to over-spiritualise. “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,” writes James, “and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15, 16). When people are suffering, Christian workers sometimes jump too quickly into a message about eternal hope and salvation in Christ. Our first priority in a situation like this is to meet concrete needs. If you and your church aren’t in a position to do this, then get behind the efforts of relief organisations who are trained and equipped to help.

  • Personal Ownership: The Samaritan assumed responsibility for the expense of the injured man’s care (Luke 10:35). In other words, he said, “This is my problem, not somebody else’s.” We can do the same by giving of our time, our money, and our material resources in support of the relief effort. Churches can also help by offering counselling and small group support programs to victims who need an opportunity to “de-brief” about their losses and traumatic experiences.

One last thought. It isn’t easy reaching out to people who are in the midst of intense sufferings. If you’re going to become involved in this kind of ministry, you’re going to have to monitor your own physical, emotional, and spiritual condition very closely. If you allow yourself to become depleted, you won’t have anything to offer to those who need your help. When the burden seems too heavy to bear, remember the incredible promise God has given us in His Word:

'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Romans 8:35, 38-39)

Additional Resources

Understanding and Coping with Trauma – Booklet

Parenting in the Midst of Tragedy -- Booklet

Good Grief: A Healthy, Courageous Response to Loss – Booklet for Teens

Why God, Why? – Booklet for Teens

Why God, Why?: Helping Your Teen Through Life's Toughest Times - Booklet

Source: Sedlak, Andrea J. and Diane D. Broadhurst. The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, D.C., September 1996

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