As Christians, we should serve in ways that
- provide the very best help to those we're serving
- wisely steward our time, talents, and treasures for maximum impact
- engage our own hearts (and those around us) in healthy and life-changing ways
Key One: Trusted Relationships
First, the best kinds of helping come through relationship.
You don't have to know someone who was affected by a disaster. (Although that's a great place to start.) Relationships can include people or organizations that you - or others you trust - built relationships with BEFORE disaster struck. This could be a church or non-profit in the area, a Watermark partner nearby, or even a trusted organization that deploys assistance around the globe.
What about GoFundMe, Facebook Fundraisers, etc.?
Be especially careful about the many "crowdsourced" funding opportunities to help. While you may feel like you're helping, oftentimes it means giving without knowing the person on the receiving end and without safeguards so the money is used as intended. This sort of "check the box" service isn't healthy for them or for you.
And sometimes it's not even necessary! For instance, in the U.S., homeowners insurance generally provides emergency assistance and immediate relief for those affected.
Key Two: Know the Timeline of Help
The phase of response for disasters is Rescue, Relief, Recovery, and Development. Knowing this can help you help best.
If you're reading this page, it's probably because of a situation that's still in the Rescue or Relief stages. It's important that we match our type of help with the stage people are in. In the middle of a crisis, offering service better suited to Recovery and Development stages can actually create difficulties and harm those it intends to help.
- In the Rescue and early Relief stages, most folks can best help by supporting organizations that are prepared to help with excellence. In particular cases with particular skills, someone might volunteer with an organization like this. But usually your funds are more helpful than your feet.
- Eventually the later Relief stage and then the Recovery stage take place. In these phases - which usually occur long after media attention has moved on - there may be myriad opportunities to respond to the disaster on the ground. These can include deeper pastoral care, demolition and construction, moving and storing belongings, or short-term provision of food, water, and temporary shelter. At this point, hands-on volunteering may be really useful, as long as a solid organization or church is coordinating relief and recovery efforts.
- In the Development stage, people look to move forward - perhaps even beyond where they were before the tragedy. People's livelihoods, quality of life, access to education and health care, and other developmental aspects become priorities. At this point, a deeper commitment to the long-term conditions of a community are the focus. So volunteering means investing time, talents, and treasures long-term in the community you are seeking to serve.
Key Three: Assisting Trusted Organizations
For most of us, the skills and material goods we might want to bring “in the moment” are better used in the months after the initial relief effort.
As mentioned above, what is often needed most in the earliest stages is monetary donations to a trusted organization. They're able to use these funds to provide whatever is needed most - whether that's water, warmth, financial help, shelter, or any other needs.
We've been called by God to be good stewards of the resources He provides us, even as we have deep compassion. Below you'll find great starting points, trusted organizations we'd encourage you to consider giving to first. And when in doubt, you can also give directly to Watermark's Disaster Relief fund by clicking here. Also feel free to contact us to see if we know of trusted organizations in an area affected by tragedy.
Who should I give to?
Whenever disaster strikes, Watermark's External Focus team looks first to see if the following organizations have gotten involved in helping. We would also look to trusted churches in the immediate area of the crisis.
When in doubt, contact the External Focus Team! We'll be glad to share what we know.
We would also remind you that for every relief effort that is in the headlines today, there are numerous recovery and development efforts going on around the world that Watermark is actively engaged in helping. To join us in those efforts, go to watermark.org/impact and join us!
Header credit: Barry.Lenard Flickr via Compfight cc