By Bob Smietana
More than 40,000 people have been driven from their homes in the recent catastrophic flooding in Louisiana. It’s the worst disaster to hit the state since Hurricane Katrina.
Yet the news headlines have been dominated by the Olympics and the 24/7 presidential election news cycle. That’s left many of the flood’s victims feeling forgotten by the rest of world, according to recent reports.
“Southern Louisiana is drowning again,” read a recent headline at Atlantic.com. “No one seems to care.”
Christians do care. Churches and faith-based disaster relief groups are often among the first responders when disaster strikes. Among them are Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, whose work is coordinated by the North America Mission Board (NAMB).
Facts & Trends asked experts at NAMB for advice on how churches can respond to the recent flood. They gave us four ways for churches to help.
1. Pray: The thousands of survivors who are homeless and whose homes have sustained damage need your prayers. First responders, disaster relief volunteers, church pastors who are giving aid and the many others helping need prayer as well.
“Also pray that as they serve, volunteers and chaplains will have opportunities to share the hope of Jesus with flood survivors and those serving alongside them and that many would come to know the Lord,” says Mike Ebert, spokesman for NAMB.
Faith plays an important role in helping people make meaning of the disaster they’ve been through, says Jamie Aten, founder the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.
“The more personal the loss or perceived threat of a disaster, the more likely religion and spirituality will be engaged amid that disaster,” Aten wrote in a 2015 Christianity Today essay about the role of faith in helping disaster victims recover. “We found meaning-making drastically decreases trauma symptoms.”
Prayer can be of vital help in times of disaster, according to Aten. “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.”
2. Donate: Rather than sending items that may or may not be useful to survivors or flood response personnel, send financial assistance that can be used for the most urgent needs at hand.
To aid in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts you can donate to the Louisiana Baptist Convention or to the North American Mission Board, says Ebert. The United Way of SouthEast Louisiana is also collecting donations for flood relief as is the Salvation Army.
3. Send: While financial donations give disaster officials ultimate flexibility, local disaster relief leaders have requested certain supplies.
Some Baptist state conventions and other faith-based groups may also be collecting items to send to Louisiana to assist with flood relief. Check with your local association or local disaster assistance agency.
4. Volunteer: Thousands of homes will need mud-out work before they can be restored and lived in again. If you would like to volunteer to help, visit your state Baptist convention website for times and locations where training will be taking place.
Other relief groups also need volunteers to assist with relief, clean up, and rebuilding, according to WWLTV in Baton Rouge. Among them are Samaritan’s Purse, the Red Cross, the NOLA Tree Project, and the Louisiana Department of Health, which needs those with medical training.
“Be prepared to serve when future disasters occur,” says Ebert. “One way to do that is to contact your state Baptist Convention for information about when they will be providing disaster relief training. Once you become certified, you will be called to serve when immediate needs arise, instead of having to wait to receive training.”
Other organizations, like the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse also have training programs for volunteers.
However you choose to help, coordinate with someone local. If you want to volunteer or donate supplies, be sure to contact someone on the ground in Louisiana ahead of time or work with someone in your local community who is already doing ministry in Louisiana, warn experts like Aten.
Don’t simply show up or ship off a truckload of supplies. You’ll only cause more headaches, even if your intentions are good.
Louisiana state officials have put out an urgent call for volunteers to help clean up and muck out flood homes. Volunteers are asked to sign up at VolunteerLouisiana.gov.
“Any organization or church group is also encouraged to sign up,” said the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in a statement on their Facebook page.
“Tens of thousands of homes across the region have been impacted by the floods. Families need this type of support to continue the massive recovery process. The volunteer support in Louisiana has been tremendous. We need to continue this effort to help our neighbors in their time of need.”
BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@Lifeway.com) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.Photo: The city of Denham Springs is among the hardest-hit in flooding across south Louisiana. Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, courtesy of Baptist Press