What Can Churches Do to Respond to Disaster?

Before last week, I had never heard of an “atmospheric river.” The term was first coined in 1998 to describe a column of water vapour that moves through the atmosphere, like a river in the sky. An atmospheric river can bring much needed water to an area, but it can also grow so large that it becomes dangerous, resulting in torrential rainfall and flooding.

Last week an atmospheric river released its torrent in my province and in my city, and threw us into a state of emergency. There have been massive floods and mudslides, sections of highways and bridges have been destroyed, water systems damaged, whole towns have had to be evacuated, farms have been covered and thousands of farm animals have died, the bodies of four people have been recovered from the mudslides and at least one person is still missing.

In my city, most of the flooding is on the other side of town from us. There was one road awash in water that had to be closed between our home and the cancer agency, which meant a detour for my husband’s chemo treatment, but that road was open again in another couple of days. A minor inconvenience for us in the midst of the devastation. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones, lost homes, lost their livelihood.

What can churches do in response to this disaster?

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Some immediately mobilized people to pray and to collect food that could be air lifted to those who were trapped by roads that had become impassable. Some churches in the areas where people were stranded opened their buildings so people could have a place to stay and provided meals. Some opened their homes to those who were evacuated. Some helped neighbours move farm animals to higher ground, some were out at all hours of the day and night working to repair the breach in the dike. The church—and by that I mean the people who are the church have already been responding and are continuing to respond.

David Horita, regional director for the Fellowship Pacific Region, stated in Light Magazine B.C.:

We are still in the early days of this disaster, so it’s not completely clear yet what is needed. We do know, however, that as the days and weeks go by there will be ongoing support needed as these communities work to recover and rebuild, and we are inviting all of our churches to consider adding their support as well.

Mennonite Central Committee B.C. has issued a statement on responding to the massive flooding:

It has now been several days since heavy rains caused massive flooding in southern B.C.  The situation is rapidly evolving and we are actively assessing where our help might be needed. We are now inviting cash donations for our BC Flood Response for those impacted by heavy rains and flooding.

Mennonite Central Committee is not involved in the front-line emergency response, and—to correct earlier reports—it is not accepting donated goods for flood victims at their thrift stores. At this time sending unrequested physical goods into flood zones may take away from other efforts, and local evacuation centres and others on the ground may not be set up to accept or manage them.

The Canadian Red Cross “works closely with community leadership and all levels of government” to provide humanitarian assistance in times of emergency, and they are also inviting donations toward their response to the B.C. disaster. As well, they invite donors to include a donation to assist the Red Cross in responding “to silent disasters and unnoticed emergencies around the world.”

Locally, the Abbotsford Community Foundation, the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, and the University of the Fraser Valley have jointly established the Abbotsford Disaster Relief Fund  to “support front-line agencies providing essential services to affected families and businesses.” GoFundMe has established a hub of verified fundraisers for those affected by the flooding in B.C. Other charitable efforts are listed in this news article, “How to Help.”

Even as we continue to respond to this disaster, there is more rain in the forecast this week and the need for relief and recovery will continue. As Mennonite Central Committee B.C. says in its statement on the B.C. Flood Response:

Your prayers are appreciated. Please consider all of those working on the front lines of this crisis, for families who have been forced from their homes or have lost loved ones, for farmers who have lost livestock, other businesses who have been deeply impacted, and for our civic leaders as they make challenging decisions.

Let us pray also for the church to be the church: to pray for those who are suffering and to express our love for God and neighbour in tangible ways, to be generous in compassion and giving financial assistance, to bless our communities in times of crisis and in times of recovery.

Update, November 29, 2021

Since last week, Mennonite Disaster Service Canada and Samaritan’s Purse Canada have both started organizing volunteers, and The Abbotsford News has created a list of “Here’s how you can help flood victims in Abbotsford.” Thank you for being the church in action!

For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better:

Author: April Yamasaki

I currently serve as resident author with a liturgical worship community, edit a quarterly devotional magazine, write online and in print publications, and often speak in churches and other settings. Published books include On the Way with Jesus, Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Websites: AprilYamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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