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Faith-based responders reflect

What's uniquely effective about faith-based disaster response?

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 7, 2005

"We work with our partners and communities years after a disaster is over."

—Abagail Nelson

What's uniquely effective about faith-based disaster response?

According to people across the country who have been responding this hurricane season, successful faith-based disaster response:

...infuses hope into relief efforts. When a United Methodist volunteer team from Kansas brought a self-sustained meal service trailer to Pascagoula, Miss., volunteer Darnelle Sheetz said the sense of hope - not the devastation - was most startling. "We've got 'regulars' now that come to the meal trailer. We're on a first-name basis. They're so appreciative and they're so hopeful. I can't believe they're so hopeful. They say to me: 'we love to see your smiling face.' "

...drops demeaning demarcations between responders and survivors. In Houston and across the nation, many faith-based and community leaders were surprised to learn the needs of evacuees often mirrored needs in their own community. "People realized their differences were not that great," observed Phil Lacey, director of business affairs, outreach and stewardship for the Houston Presbytery. "It was really, really heartwarming to see, when people dropped that stark differentiation between responder and survivor and started to relate for real."

...pays attention to areas not shown on TV news. Faith-based groups are often the lifeline for less visible communities in need of supplies, donations and public support. "We're particularly concerned about those rural areas that get less focus," said Church World Service Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Tim Johnson.

...thinks about the long haul. Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) - and nearly every other national faith-based disaster response group - is formulating plans for long-term hurricane recovery. "We work with our partners and communities years after a disaster is over," said ERD Vice President Abagail Nelson. "Our partnership with the Diocese of Honduras continues to address housing needs for those left homeless by Hurricane Mitch in 1998."

...encourages small-scale response simultaneously with large-scale efforts. Some churches are sheltering five families, others 500. Some are preparing food, others are sending relief items in response to a specific need. "If churches around the country would just do what they could - no matter how small - it would be interesting to see how much more quickly people's needs would be met," mused Harry Slye, pastor of Grand Lakes Presbyterian Church, west of Houston.

...transfers expertise across faith lines, across state lines. In New York City, where 1,500 Hurricane Katrina evacuees have relocated, New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS) has coordinated and trained volunteers to conduct exit interviews of every evacuee family that registers with the disaster assistance service center. "The information collected will be used by the Human Services Council, NYDIS and the Office of Emergency Management to determine what long-term recovery programs will be implemented to help our new neighbors from the Gulf states achieve sustainable recovery in our community," reported NYDIS.

...shares global empathy. "In the midst of our hurting, we also remember others who are hurting," wrote Amy Gopp, an associate with Week of Compassion. "The suffering in Sudan, the starving in Niger, the flooding in Romania, the displaced of the Gulf Coast: we are all connected as members of one human body."

...draws on international expertise. International relief groups are supporting their domestic counterparts on both national and local levels. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency has committed $1 million for Katrina relief and has allocated close to half of that amount to local partners and organizations directly involved in providing relief assistance. ADRA has also shipped more than $1.2 million of clothing, disaster materials, food and supplies to warehouses operated by Adventist Community Services in New Iberia, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; and Houston, Texas.

....offers immediate relief - even when it's not the "usual" response. Poarch Community Church, a Mennonite church on a Poarch Creek Indian reservation near Atmore, Ala., sheltered 60 evacuees during Hurricane Katrina and for two weeks afterward. "As a church, we weren't prepared for that, but we wanted to fill in ... before a shelter could be prepared for them," said Steve Cheramie Risingsun, the pastor of Poarch Community Church.

....remembers prayer is a universal response - and a response everyone can do. "Abide in an attitude of prayer and daily times of prayer for the people afflicted by the hurricane and the relief workers rushing to their aid," urged Dr. Robert Lee Hill, pastor at the Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri. "Continue to pray."

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