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Resilire Blog

Disasters and Climate Change: Connecting the Dots

Posted June 20, 2016



Posted by Ben Lowe

great barrier reef


"The integral links between disasters and climate change—and thus disaster ministry and climate action—are growing clearer every day.”

In early 2012, a group of concerned young Christian leaders came together in Washington, D.C., for two days of prayer and vision casting at the home of a senior leader in the World Evangelical Alliance.

Our concerns were twofold. First, we were getting reports from numerous relief and development organizations about how changing climate patterns were undoing their progress in helping communities secure clean water, dependable food supplies, and stable environments in order to sustain their livelihoods. Second, when we looked to our churches, campuses, and communities in the United States to see what was being done about this growing challenge, we found very little.

Prayerfully, we came to see that climate change is growing into a diverse and far-reaching humanitarian crisis, rendering many communities less resilient and undermining our ability to flourish together on God’s earth. Rising sea levels, acidifying oceans, failing crops, worsening extreme weather events, and other climate changes are increasingly wreaking havoc on both human and nonhuman communities around the world. As Christ followers called to love God, love our neighbor, and care for creation, we felt called to take greater responsibility for the world we are inheriting—and so, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (Y.E.C.A.) was born.

At first glance, some may view Y.E.C.A. as an “environmental” initiative focused on “environmental” action and advocacy. In reality, however, we work just as much with relief and development agencies, mission organizations, and justice and compassion ministries as we do with traditional environmental groups. This is because climate change, like many of the pressing challenges we face, has interconnected moral, spiritual, societal, and ecological roots and impacts that must be addressed holistically in order to achieve lasting progress.

One partner that we are very grateful for and always eager to support and collaborate with is the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College. HDI is at the forefront of equipping Christians and churches to more faithfully prepare for and respond to disasters in all their forms and at every level. Together, we are working to highlight the reality that, to reduce the frequency and severity of disasters, we need to tackle their roots, which include climate change. Likewise, if we want to help communities grow more resilient to disasters, we need to ensure that their natural resource base is healthy, stable, and sustainably utilized.

The integral links between disasters and climate change—and thus disaster ministry and climate action—are growing clearer every day. The more we are able to connect these dots in our action and advocacy, the more faithful we can live and love in a disaster-filled world.

For more on the links between disasters and climate change:


Rev. Ben Lowe was born and raised as a missionary kid in Southeast Asia, where he experienced firsthand the impacts of poverty and pollution. He is actively engaged on a number of justice issues, was the founding spokesperson and is now senior advisor of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, and has spoken on over 50 college campuses. A graduate of Wheaton College (IL), Ben is the author of Green Revolution, Doing Good Without Giving Up, and The Future of Our Faith. He is ordained in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. For more info: benlowe.net

Photo Credit: By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s, NASA Visible Earth: Great Barrier Reef (IotD ID 11269), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1806532


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The views, opinions, authors, and contributors represented in Resilire do not necessarily represent the beliefs of Wheaton College or the Humanitarian Disaster Institute.


 

Caring for the Vulnerable Amid Disasters: Reflections on the Disaster Ministry Conference 2016

Posted June 13, 2016



Posted by Dr. Jamie Aten

orlando shooting

 "If we are going to be effective in helping the vulnerable in times of disaster and humanitarian crisis, we must learn to walk in community with those we serve, each other, and God." 

As I awoke to the news on Sunday of the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, I was once again reminded that many disasters strike without warning.

Just last week, I was immersed in discussions about how to best care for the vulnerable amid crises at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute’s Disaster Ministry Conference (#DMC16) at Wheaton College, alongside global leaders and volunteers from 13 countries who are involved in disaster ministry, emergency management, humanitarian aid, public health, and mental health fields.

conference participants 


Though many might not realize, disasters do not affect all people equally. Those with fewer resources, the young and old, the differently abled, the marginalized and oppressed are all at greater risk. The vulnerable tend to suffer much more than the rest of the general population after a disaster or humanitarian crisis, and the road to recovery can also be significantly more challenging. For this reason, I chose “Caring for the Vulnerable” as this year’s theme for our conference, and included a special focus on the role of the church in responding to the refugee crisis.

Perhaps the primary, overarching lesson of this year’s conference was that caring for the vulnerable ultimately depends upon one thing--community. If we are going to be effective in helping those in need in times of disaster and humanitarian crisis, we must learn to walk in community with those we serve, with each other, and with our God.

Following are some more important lessons from our speakers and participants:

Disasters are a biblical justice issue.

The church is called to serve the marginalized in times of disasters and crises. As Humanitarian Disaster Institute Co-Director Dr. David Boan reminded us, “Disaster ministry is an expression of our faith.” Bishop Efraim Tendero, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, set the tone for the conference when he said in his keynote address, “We are dared to be the salt and light to better our communities because of the presence of the church . . . We have the calling, character, and capacity to lead society in caring, resourcing, and transforming the vulnerable members of our communities.”

We need to truly know the vulnerable.

Sheryl Haw, international director of Micah Global noted, “Don’t just show love in your words. You must show evidence of your love by how you live with others.” It’s important to identify those who might be vulnerable in our churches and communities. But beyond that, if we are going to be effective in our work and ministry with the vulnerable, we must learn to listen, sit with, and live alongside them. Our eyes also need to be opened to causes of oppression. Emily Gray of World Relief DuPage/Aurora encouraged us to make this our prayer—that our eyes would be open to the needs before us--right in our own communities. Tom Albinson, founder of the International Association for Refugees, said, “It’s important to understand the causes of vulnerability. Some of these include social injustice, financial challenge, environment, and illiteracy. There’s not just one reason people become vulnerable. There are many interlocking reasons. It’s time the church engaged in holistic intervention.”

God answers our “Why” questions amidst our crises through relationships.

“Justice can feel like a slow kingdom coming. But know the arc of the universe is bending toward justice,” said Kent Annan, author of Slow Kingdom Coming and founder of Haiti Partners, reminding us that though it may sometimes seem as though justice will never come, it is a part of God’s promise to us that will one day be fulfilled. Along these lines, Sheryl Haw noted that the common response to crisis has changed since biblical times. She said, “Today we often ask, ‘Why?’ Yet the people of the Bible asked, ‘How long?’” Elisabeth Ahlquist, development manager with Medair, shared in her devotional that we are often left standing in a gap in times of disasters and humanitarian crises between hope and reality. We see, hear, and live experiences that sometimes shake our worldviews. This frequently leaves us with more questions than answers. But Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, reminded us, “God doesn’t always give us the answer to our why. Instead God gives us himself.” And the way we experience God’s presence today, is often through his people. His response often comes through those he sends us into our lives to walk alongside us in community.

Ed Stetzer 

We need to do more than just welcome refugees.

The current refugee crisis is the largest displacement of people since WWII. During “The Church and the Refugee Crisis” panel discussion, Tom Albinson urged, “Help new arrivals find their feet and contribute to society. It’s great to welcome people, but we have to help integrate them and set them up for success.” Matthew Soerens, U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, offered a helpful acrostic, PLEASE, that serves as a helpful reminder of the many ways we can help refugees:

P - prayer
L - listening
E - education
A - advocacy
S - service

E - Evangelism (not proselytizing)

We must overcome fear with faith in our response to the refugee crisis.

Research has shown that many people in the US, including church-goers, fear refugees. We need to help move people from a fear-based response to a faith-based response. According to Emily Gray, “There are churches that are so afraid, they have come close to dividing over the refugee issue.” Facts are needed. But it is through prayer, story, and through relationship that fear will be transformed into faith. It’s time for us to welcome discussion and welcome people different than ourselves. Yet we need to go further in our response. We need to pray that our communities might be more aware and follow up this awareness with action.

Lament is important to sustaining disaster and humanitarian ministry.

Lament is commonly defined as experiencing or expressing sorrow. Kent Annan shared, “Confession is an essential aspect of doing justice work . . . it’s not just confessing our sins, it’s also confessing our vulnerabilities.” We need to confess when our help has also hurt. We also practice confession so that we are free to ask God to shape us. We see throughout scripture examples of people of God who regularly practiced confession and lament. It’s when we confess our weaknesses that God steps in, and often tackles the seemingly impossible. Sharing our weaknesses with one another can also bring us together, though we often fear that our brokenness will push people away. Roger Sandberg of Medical Teams International reminded us that lament can also mean protest, and that the church needs to be involved in advocacy. If social injustice makes people vulnerable, then we need to be involved in both policy and advocacy. We also need to be advocates for the vulnerable in our own churches and communities.

Jamie Aten

Dr. Jamie Aten is the founder and co-director of Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI). He is also co-author of the Disaster Ministry Handbook. HDI is the country’s’ first social science research center dedicated to the study of faith and disasters. The purpose of the Disaster Ministry Conference is to equip church and lay leaders to serve amid disasters (e.g., natural disasters, refugee crises, mass shootings, acts of terrorism). Follow on twitter @drjamieaten.


 

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7 Lessons from Resilire’s Disaster Ministry Specialists

Posted June 6, 2016



Posted by Richard Keezer '17

Jamie Aten Resilience
“Human suffering and disasters are not going away any time soon, and they are rarely predictable events.”


I began working on the blog for the Humanitarian Disaster Institute last fall, just after beginning my master’s in clinical mental health counseling at Wheaton’s Graduate School. In that time, I’ve learned much about how applying psychological research can serve the needs of others, lending opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world. Following are seven points that sum up what Resilire’s writers have taught me since the blog’s inception:

  1. People in humanitarian aid are passionate about serving the Lord. Being new to the area and new to humanitarian aid work and research, my eyes have been opened to the large body of people who are passionately serving God every day as professionals involved in humanitarian aid. From Rev. Canon Andrew White whose organization serves families who are fleeing ISIS, to Fiona Boshoff, who shared her gripping story of being within a few blocks away during the recent Brussels attacks, I’ve been awestruck that each and every week since we began our blog, we have heard from people on the frontlines, or directly assisting those on the frontlines of helping those in need. These people are some of the bravest and self-sacrificing souls I’ve encountered, and it’s been my privilege to play a role in sharing their stories.
  2. Refugees are in dire need. The current refugee crisis that has captured national media attention is also the hottest topic in the realm of humanitarian aid, and a number of Resilire’s posts have addressed this crisis. In fact, earlier this year, HDI partnered with LifeWay Research and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism to sponsor the GC2 Summit, which gathered leaders from the evangelical community to discuss the refugee crisis and the response of the Church. Reading the ongoing conversation about the refugee crisis in Resilire’s posts has revealed the truly immense need of this population, and I hope and pray these posts will also play a part in moving others to action.
  3. Psychological first aid matters as much as physical first aid. Working with HDI has helped me understand that while people affected by disasters are in physical need of things like food, water, and shelter--they are also often in great spiritual and psychological need as well. It was encouraging to read, for instance, about how the psychological and spiritual first aid training Dr. David Boan led for chaplains in Ukraine has helped prepare them to aid soldiers in the war-torn areas on the border between Ukraine and Russia.
  4. We must be intentional about not becoming the “center” of our aid. When we go off to assist others who are in need, particularly those who are from cultures other than our own, there is large risk of unintentionally making ourselves the center of attention. Andrew Cuthbert pointed out that while we desire to help, we bring with us an egocentricity that says “I am helping you,” with special emphasis on the I. We have a tendency to believe that we have the power to bring change and healing to the victims of disaster, when in reality the power for their recovery comes from within them. As professional helpers, we must not lose sight of the reality that those we are helping are the center of our focus and we are only accessories to their resilient recovery.
  5. Disasters are the perfect place for God to reveal Himself through His people. “Though disasters reveal injustices, disaster ministries reveal God’s love, mercies, and grace.” This quote from one of our first posts by HDI’s Co-directors Drs. Jamie Aten and David Boan has stuck with me since it was published in December. Disasters cause immense human suffering, and this is the unfortunate reality of living in a fallen and broken world. Fortunately, as Christians, this provides us with the opportunity to respond with love and fill the void created by this suffering with the work of Jesus Christ. Disasters are a chance for us to do good, showing the world what it means to be a follower of Christ through our helping actions.
  6. Community matters in the realm of humanitarian aid. When people that care about humanitarian aid get together and talk about what they are passionate about, beautiful things happen. At the GC2 Summit earlier this year, there were over 1,500 people from the evangelical community who came out to discuss the current refugee crises in Europe and the Middle East. Twenty evangelical leaders spoke passionately and with conviction about what the Christian community needs to do in response to this immense human suffering. This gathering inspired communication, action, and support in the humanitarian aid community in a way that is necessary for our success as a body of professionals. To succeed at what each of us do, we need the help of our fellow humanitarian aid leaders and workers to come alongside each other, supporting each other through relationship, communal worship, and prayer so that we can best serve God’s people. I can’t wait to see more of this happening at our annual disaster ministry conference, which provides a chance for those in disaster ministry to learn from each other and build each other up.
  7. “Every Church Should have a Disaster Ministry.” One of our first posts, from Dr. Jamie Aten, sums up one of the most significant take-aways from these past few months. Each and every church needs to have a ministry that is prepared to respond to disasters at home and even abroad. Human suffering and disasters are not going away any time soon, and they are rarely predictable events. Disaster ministries need to be formed in our church communities so Christians are prepared and ready to respond when communities are in distress. While no one wants to see others suffer, these moments provide the perfect opportunities to answer that suffering with the work and love of Jesus Christ, and the best way to do this is to be prepared as communities to respond to the inevitable suffering we are going to encounter in our fallen and broken world.

Richard Keezer is a social media advocate for the Humanitarian Disaster Institute. He is also a clinical mental health student at the Wheaton College Graduate School working toward becoming a licensed counselor.

 

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Lessons in Disaster Mental Health Care

Posted May 30, 2016



Posted by Dr. David Entwistle

Katrina

“After spending a semester looking at causes and consequences of disasters it became painfully obvious that . . . we need to engage in realistic risk assessment, risk mitigation, and disaster response planning, because small and large scale disasters will always be with us.”

I recently created an undergraduate course on Disaster Mental Health (DMH), knowing little about the topic. As a result of a departmental review, my colleagues and I had learned that our psychology students longed for courses where they could obtain practical experience. As I thought about developing a course that could blend academic rigor with application, a DMH course seemed like a worthy candidate. Though I had wondered if anyone would be interested, within days of the course schedule being published, the class was filled and students were asking if I would waive the enrollment limit. I was amazed to learn: This generation longs to help people in need. Following are a few more lessons learned:

Anyone can make a difference in their own community. Putting the course together involved the usual tasks, such as finding appropriate textbooks (fortunately, one of those was the about-to-be-published Disaster Ministry Handbook by HDI’s Co-directors, Drs. Jamie Aten and David Boan). Since I have little experience with disasters, I knew that I would need to seek out others who could add to my academic and clinical experience with their DMH expertise. I was not disappointed--other people wanted to help. Our local Red Cross chapter and Crisis Intervention Center were happy to be involved, providing speakers with experience in everything from local house fires to critical incident stress debriefing with first responders to large-scale disaster response. The Red Cross even provided Psychological First Aid training which prepares students to join Red Cross Disaster Action Teams. One course requirement allowed us to make a difference in our own community by participating with the Red Cross in canvassing neighborhoods to install smoke detectors--the single biggest thing we can do to reduce the frequency and severity of the most common disaster that the Red Cross responds to--home fires.

Failure to take social justice into account when planning for and responding to disasters tends to increase economic and social disparity. My students and I started the course with a general knowledge of the kinds of risks we face--tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and terrorist attacks. But most of us had not considered the degree to which vulnerability plays a role in who suffers and who is most (or least) resilient in the face of disaster. Although many of my courses acknowledge the role of poverty, discrimination, educational disparity, and other social inequities, our DMH course readings highlighted the degree to which vulnerability is at the core of suffering. Moreover, if our disaster planning focuses on the well-off rather than the disenfranchised, the result is a larger gap between those who have and those who lack.

We are all vulnerable, and the line separating any of us from disaster is precarious. Truth be told, though, one of the things that may seem attractive about disaster response is that those who are well off have opportunities to help those who suffer. And yet, there are powerful forces, many of them unconscious, which encourage us to put ourselves in the role of rescuer, and to minimize awareness of our own vulnerability. During the semester, my own sense of invulnerability was shattered. My brother-in-law--a former marine, medic, army surgeon, and then chief of surgery at a VA hospital--disappeared during an early morning jog. As was his routine, John drove to the YMCA in the wee hours of the morning, parked his car, changed, and went for a run. When he failed to show up for a full surgical OR schedule, my sister organized a frantic search. John’s drowned body was found in a river a day later with multiple rib fractures and a broken sternum. As I flew across the country to comfort my sister and her family, I sat in airport terminals and airplane seats preparing for my DMH class, reading about vulnerability, reactions to disaster, and existential questions raised by disasters. Suddenly, these issues were not academic and distant, they were raw and personal.

We need to be discerning, loving, and humble as we respond in compassion to those who suffer. My experiences and the DMH course content raised age-old questions. Why does suffering happen? Where is God? What do we say to those who suffer? The book of Job is a prototypical story of suffering and theodicy. It often seems to me that Job’s friends did pretty well at the beginning. When they “heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:11-13). Sometimes, we just need to sit with those who suffer. Sometimes, we just need to listen. Sometimes, we need to offer food and water and shelter. And yes, sometimes, we need to open our mouths. But when we do, we need to choose our words carefully.
After spending a semester looking at causes and consequences of disasters, it became painfully obvious that disasters are ubiquitous, and that it is perilous to ignore risks. We need to engage in realistic risk assessment, risk mitigation, and disaster response planning, because small and large scale disasters will always be with us.

Christianity offers at least three truths with which we can face the realities of a world that is prone to disasters:

  1. God is with us. Emmanuel; God incarnate. “Yet I am always with you” writes the psalmist, “you hold me by my right hand” (Ps. 73:23). “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”, promised our Lord (Matt. 28:20).
  2. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). “And whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve . . . ” (Mt. 20:27-29).
  3. We live in the hope yet to come. There is a day coming, we are told, when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4). Peter reminds us that through Christ’s resurrection we have a new birth “into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” even though “now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Pet. 1:4,7).


Dr. David Entwistle is professor of psychology at Malone University in Canton, Ohio.






 

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HDI in the Field | Philippines

Posted May 23, 2016



Posted by Dr. David Boan

"Almost three years after Typhoon Haiyan, many of the major buildings in the area have yet to be rebuilt. Read how HDI and others are addressing the complex process of preparing for and recovering from major disasters, as well as making changes in a community."

Homonhon Island is a place with history. In 1521 it was the first land Magellan cited as he crossed the Pacific. In 1944 the region made history again when Douglas MacArthur waded onto shore at nearby Leyte, saying “I have returned.” The memorial showing MacArthur and his group wading through water is now dry due to a drought that has impacted the area, the result of shifting weather patterns.

Yolanda

Almost 500 years after Magellan, this same spot was ground zero for the largest typhoon ever to make landfall. Typhoon Haiyan (locally, Super Typhoon Yolanda) made landfall in East Samar on November 8, 2013. By some estimates, 11 million people were impacted by this enormous storm. Many of the major buildings in the area, including the hospital on Homonhon, have yet to be rebuilt, and lessons from the typhoon have, by many accounts, yet to be implemented.

Homonhon 

In May of this year, two of us from HDI plus staff from the Philippine Relief and Development Services met with a group of 25 people from the Guiuan area and Homonhon in East Samar. Our work focused on piloting a program to build community capacity by teaching local teams to assess and design their own programs as opposed to implementing external programs. We had three community teams, and spent three days together talking about what they learned from Yolanda and what changes they would like to see for their community. Their stories illustrate the complexity of preparing for and recovering from major disasters, and making changes in a community.

Evacuation

The teams in the workshop selected three stories that had lessons for the community. The first was about how difficult it was to get people to evacuate. The typhoon warnings came while it was still a clear calm day, and the people along the coast said they had dealt with typhoons before and would deal with this one. When they realized their mistake, some evacuated to neighbor’s homes that appeared to be sturdily built, only to find in many cases the homes had not been built to code and crumbled in the high winds. People who avoided buildings and trees by escaping to open fields above the flood line did better surviving the storm than those who sought shelter in buildings. The team sharing this story wanted to see an evacuation center built on the island and a training program to get people to respond to warnings.

Job Recovery

The second team’s story was about how the typhoon killed off major fish schools and all but destroyed the fishing industry. The island damage had been cleaned up, but many people who depended on fishing for their livelihood have not recovered. What was needed now was a jobs program, but retraining people who have had fishing central to their culture for 500 years involves more than just holding classes. Fish are starting to return, but are still well below pre-storm levels. Many more people are living in poverty since the storm, and there is little economic opportunity for people. This team emphasized how disaster recovery needs to address the long-term economic impacts with training programs, micro-finance, and investment from the government. At the root of the problem, people need help seeing that their community has fundamentally changed, and they need to find a way to look ahead to a different future.

Housing Infrastructure

The third team’s story was about inadequate housing. Just as the first team mentioned, some housing made of concrete or cinder block withstood the storm, but some did not. The people became skilled at recognizing large cracks in the concrete walls that suggest a lack of reinforced concrete in a home likely to fall. Much of the housing in the area needs to be upgraded, but this confronts two related problems: building codes are not adequate, and some builders ignore the codes that do exist, especially in poor areas where profit margins are small. As a result, all construction is suspect, but construction in poor areas is the worst, leading to the poorer populations suffering a majority of the harm. As the team discussed the need for housing, they realized that unless they addressed the underlying problem they risked just building more inadequate housing.

Overarching Lessons

As the teams discussed these problems they learned two important lessons. They first saw how community issues are interconnected. Evacuation is linked to adequate construction and construction is linked to jobs and to government regulation. The different systems and people in any community are connected, and an effort to make change in one area impacts others. Second, as our workshop progressed, the teams became adept at asking critical questions about why problems exist, and these questions led them to see root causes. They realized that even an apparently simple project like building a shelter must address different aspects of the community and the underlying problems if it is going to be a successful solution.

David Boan Teaching 

Perhaps most importantly, they also realized that many of the problems they had to address were not caused by the typhoon. The typhoon did not cause people to distrust government messages, nor did it cause the lack of adequate building codes and the failure to inspect construction. In many ways the immediate disaster that was the typhoon exposed the long simmering disasters that existed just below the surface in the community in corruption, distrust, and poor support systems.

The people of Homonhon are resilient, and the teams left our time together determined to make changes. Their history shows they are strong and will deal with problems once they recognize them.

Dr. David Boan is co-director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College.

Photo Credit: Levi Velasco

 

 

 

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