Resilire Blog

HDI in the Field | Philippines

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.


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.


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.


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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Responding to Disaster: What Do We Truly Need?

Posted by Dr. Geoffrey W. Sutton.

new zealand aid

“The need for safety, personal dignity, and respect can be more powerful needs than those in the usual list of basic needs.”

Imara pointed to the shiny, taut skin on the recently burned leg of Malika*—the young woman in front of us--and then told us the story of the 2008 Kenyan genocide. Neighbors attacked without notice. Malika and others ran to the local Eldoret church for safety. But soon the sacred became profane. An altar became a funeral pyre. A torrent of flames engulfed them. Some fled, but machete-waving warriors carved the life from stragglers. Women without homes or possessions lost even more to sexual violence. Here in the camp, not far from Nairobi, wounded souls ate meager portions of rice, washed clothes in cold tubs, and struggled to survive.

I’ve learned and unlearned some things about true needs from people like Malika who have survived disasters. Here’s just a taste of what I’ve learned about what we as humans truly need:

Needs don’t come in pyramids

According to Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchical pyramid of needs, fulfilling the basic needs forms a base. Once these are fulfilled, people might pursue higher order needs like the social need to belong or the need for self-esteem.

People have basic needs of course. The Kenyan survivors had small gray tents, portable toilets, and a pump for water. Convoy of Hope provided rice. And a line moved slowly toward the Red Cross nurse’s station. Relief agencies appeared adept at meeting these important needs.

Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Louis Tay and Ed Diener, identified several universal needs for people in 123 countries. Fulfilling basic needs was a strong predictor of both high evaluations of life and a decrease in negative emotions. Deprivation of basic needs hurts but fulfillment of basic needs does not contribute much to positive feelings. And another important finding— needs can be independent contributors to well-being. So, as each different need is fulfilled, people experience an incremental improvement in their lives, as well as a decline in bad feelings

People don’t live by bread alone

On May 4, 2007, a tornado nearly wiped out my wife’s home town of Greensburg, Kansas. Disaster response teams soon arrived with basic supplies. One Sunday, my wife and I joined a group of Christians worshiping beneath a tent. A concrete slab marked the spot where a church once stood—now it provided a sacred space for a communal lunch. In addition to the meal, spiritual and social needs were met.

It’s not clear where spiritual needs fit in any hierarchy. For many, spiritual needs are basic needs. Spirituality is not all about meaning in some esoteric sense of a narrative that weaves tragedy into a godly story of life-defining purpose. Spirituality includes feelings and familiar worship routines. In Kenya and in Kansas, spirituality meant familiar worship songs, encouragement from a local pastor, and praying as a community. These familiar acts, and the feelings they engender, nourish spirituality.

The second need is social. The meal subserved the greater need to be with others. Stories need to be told and retold to good listeners. Worries and frustrations must be shared along with photos and memories of loved ones lost or missing. Plans for rebuilding or moving are floated tentatively as if survivors can’t be sure what the future holds anymore. As Tay and Diener found, meeting needs for respect and social interaction were more important to predicting positive feelings than the fulfillment of basic needs.

It would be a mistake of course to think all people meet their spiritual and social needs in the same way. Some people are mad at God. Singing songs of praise feels a bit inauthentic when you wonder where God was when all hell broke loose. And some folks prefer to be alone or in small groups rather than to mix with crowds or wait in long lines. Cultural norms vary and so do the preferences of individuals and families within a host culture.

A refuge is not always a safe place

Tragically, whether people have escaped a natural disaster or one produced by human violence, vulnerable persons are often subject to repeated trauma on the journey to safety or after arriving at a refugee camp. History is replete with examples of women taken as the spoils of war. As reported in the New York Times, the recent plight of European migrants reminds us that women are still exploited financially and sexually.

The need for safety, personal dignity, and respect can be more powerful needs than those in the usual list of basic needs. Women report not eating or drinking to avoid using toilets where they will be sexually assaulted by guards. Some women refuse to leave war zones because smugglers demand sex for a place on a boat or a financial discount. Some would rather die than be raped. Still others report sexual and other forms of physical abuse by fellow migrants as they are forced to live without privacy in tents and shelters. Well-lit toilets, privacy, and an ongoing assessment to screen out predators are vital safety needs.

Survival is complicated

James survived his tour of duty in Vietnam where he was exposed to Agent Orange. His relative silence and dark sunglasses kept family at an emotional distance. One day the glasses came off and James told me of his work among the dead. For him, the smell of death lingered with the images and robbed him of sleep. Keeping quiet and closed off helped him manage inner explosiveness.

Memories are multisensory images that may be tagged with excruciating sounds, rage-evoking scenarios, and vomit-inducing smells. Recovery includes removing the power of the past to intrude on the present. Unlike the removal of a bullet, these internal injuries have multiple sites. Those that heal do so at different rates and attain different levels of wellness, with or without specialist interventions. I think some need to see surviving a disaster as a lifelong process. Sometimes hidden scars remain for life even though they lose the power to disrupt survival.

Badges of Honor

Soldiers are recognized for their valor in combat. Heroic civilian teams are honored with ceremonies and plaques. Some honors are worn on uniforms while others rest on shelves. But how do we honor survivors?

Here’s what my mother wrote about a Nazi bombing raid: “Just before we reached the corner to turn into our road, we heard the bombers and the anti-aircraft guns…I really got scared…I ran as fast as I could, with shrapnel whizzing by me just missing my face.” Dad compared her run to the stories of her running for her school team. On the next day my father brought home a piece of shrapnel, which she could add to her other medals.

I still have that misshapen medal. Eventually, people in transition from victims to survivors walk away with a memory rather than walk away from a memory. Souvenirs adorn the walls of many homes. I think survivors need medals too.

*The names in the stories are fictitious.

Geoffrey W. Sutton Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and emeritus professor of psychology at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri.

Photo credit: New Zealand Defence Force from Wellington, New Zealand (AK 10-0127-128) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia


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Confession in the Midst of Disaster Relief

Posted by Kent Annan.

plane view


 “As you study, prepare for, and respond to disasters, I invite you to confession as an essential and life-giving practice.”

 If you’ve ever been on a plane or in a vehicle rushing toward a disaster, you know there is a strange mix of feelings. Most people are rushing in the opposite direction. Who willingly chooses to head straight into devastation, death, pain, blood, destruction, danger?

If you are one of the few who do, who run not away but toward, thanks be to God for you. Thanks be to God for your courage and your willingness to take risks to help others.

But between you and me, we know there is more than courage and pure selfless love in play. I wrote the following words in After Shock six days after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed many thousands of people and decimated an already suffering city. I wrote the following words after boarding the plane with a group of relief workers and medical teams. We were feeling full of sorrow but also posting on Facebook and feeling full of life as we prepared to enter into a place so recently marked by much death:

"Like angels, we help. Like vultures, we scavenge on the suffering of others to feed our hunger for meaning. Purity cannot be checked in or carried on for these flights. The baggage is ourselves. Always ourselves."

Writing those words on the plane over Port-au-Prince unveiled the uncomfortable truth—whether here, or after a tornado in Oklahoma, or when a fire is blazing in a home nearby—that even in the work of helping people after a disaster we need confession.

I confess my mixed motives, my public gestures of love, and my hero complex in my new book. As Christians, we’re invited to confess as a way of seeking forgiveness and also freedom for Christ’s love to live through us. We know confession is important because, like the Apostle Paul says, our motives and our love often gets all tangled up in our sinner/saint selves.

Confessing hasn’t made my motives completely pure, but I think it’s meant that selfish motives have a little less power over me. Love has more freedom to shape my work.

As you study, prepare for, and respond to disasters, I invite you to confession as an essential and life-giving practice that can help to free your spirit and improve the quality of your work.

Five years after circling in that plane, I wrote the following in my new book about what I’ve continued to learn:

"[Confessing is important…] because when we enter someone’s life to help, we also have the potential to hurt. We owe it to people we serve to be aware of how our motivations influence us. We confess them so we can continue to be transformed to best serve God’s kingdom."

Maybe confession is a way to invite God to rush into the disaster that is sometimes our inner lives. Fortunately, God speeds toward us and not away. Grace and hope indeed.

Kent Annan is the author of the forthcoming book Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly in the World. He is also co-director of Haiti Partners.

Photo credit: Gabrielaerc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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Refugee Crisis in Perspective: The Disconnect Between Church Doctrine and Praxis

Posted by Matthew Soerens.

refugee kids

“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.” -Leith Anderson

A few months ago—as the global refugee crisis was dominating news headlines—LifeWay Research conducted a poll of Protestant pastors in the U.S. The poll results highlight a remarkable divergence between doctrine and praxis within the American church.

God’s Call for us

Eighty-six percent of the pastors who were surveyed affirmed that, as Christians, we have a responsibility to care sacrificially for refugees, those who have been displaced from their homes by a credible fear of persecution. Given the clear and frequent biblical injunctions on this topic, it’s not surprising that theologically-educated church leaders would affirm this response: the Hebrew Scriptures alone contain 92 references to the ger—the foreigner, stranger, sojourner, or immigrant, depending upon your English translation. As scholar Walter Kaiser notes, the Old Testament warns “no fewer than 36 times of Israel’s obligations to aliens, widows, and orphans. Most important here, Israel’s obligation is to be motivated by the memory that they had been aliens in Egypt.” The New Testament’s frequent commands to hospitality (philoxenia, literally the love of strangers) and Jesus’ commands to love our neighbors and to do to others as we would have them do to us all compel the Christ-follower to respond with compassion to refugees. That concern is compounded by the reality that, of those admitted as refugees to the U.S. in the past decade, more are persecuted Christians than those of any other single religion. Many American Christians feel a particular burden for the persecuted church, while also recognizing the arrival of those of other faiths as an opportunity to live out the Great Commission.

The Current Reality

Despite such broad affirmation of the importance of serving refugees, however, relatively few churches in the U.S. are actually doing so. Only eight percent of Protestant pastors say that their churches are actively serving the refugees within their own community, and less than one-fifth say they are involved in serving refugees internationally (by supporting relief agencies, missionaries, or others ministering overseas). Notwithstanding the minority of churches that are living out their convictions in significant—sometimes heroic—ways, for the majority of American churches, there’s a rather remarkable gap between what we know we ought to do and what we’re actually doing.


Part of that disconnect may be logistical: while refugees are resettled into almost every state in the country, they are not necessarily in every community. Refugee resettlement agencies have certainly not always facilitated church involvement perfectly, either, even though most of the nine national agencies authorized by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees are associated with one or more Christian denomination. And many churches eager to serve may just not know where to start.

Misinformed Fear

I suspect though, the larger part of the disconnect is explained by another finding in LifeWay Research’s polling. Nearly half of the pastors surveyed acknowledged that there was a sense of fear within their congregations regarding refugees. When the Syrian refugee crisis suddenly became the focus of public attention last September—largely, it seems, in response to the devastating image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed ashore on a Turkish beach—the widespread response was compassion. But just a few weeks later, after a terrorist attack in Paris and then a subsequent attack in California, that compassion turned to fear, as many wondered (fueled by the rhetoric of attention-seeking presidential candidates) if terrorists could infiltrate the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

Both the facts and our faith can help us respond to these concerns.

It’s entirely appropriate to expect our government to do everything reasonably possible to prevent terrorism. But there’s simply not a good reason to punish carefully vetted refugees from rebuilding their lives in the United States—like millions have done before them, throughout U.S. history—when the facts are that the refugee screening process is actually the most thorough vetting to which any category of immigrant or visitor is subjected. Quite unlike the much more complex realities of asylum seekers arriving in Europe, who can only be vetted after arriving on European territory, those admitted to the U.S. as refugees are screened in advance, a process that includes multiple in-person interviews and biometric background checks coordinated between the U.S. Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Defense as well as the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center. As researcher Alex Nowrasteh with the Cato Institute concludes, “ISIS fighters or terrorists who are intent on attacking U.S. soil have myriad other options for doing so that are all cheaper, easier, and more likely to succeed than sneaking in through the heavily guarded refugee gate.”

The best evidence that this screening process is working is that—with more than 3 million refugees admitted to the U.S. since the late 1970s—there has never been a terrorist attack perpetrated in the United States by someone admitted as a refugee. “Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country,” argues Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, “but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.”

When we analyze the facts, we find there is little reason to fear refugees. But the greater reason to “be not afraid” is because it is a matter of obedience. The command to “fear not” is repeated over and over again in Scripture. We are not afraid—not necessarily because there is nothing to fear, but because we trust a God who tells us, “I am with you” (Gen 26:24, Jer 1:8, Matt 28:20), because “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1).

Our New Response

Ultimately, my challenge to local churches (and the people who form them) is to welcome refugees, even when it seems scary, not because we trust the U.S. or any government—though the U.S. refugee resettlement program has a strong record—but because we trust in God. For this reason, we choose to love those who arrive, and “there is no fear in love [because] perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).”
If we do so, I suspect we’ll see that gap between theology and praxis shrink, as more pastors find the courage to lead their congregations in welcoming the refugees who arrive within their communities.


Matthew Soerens is the co-author of the forthcoming Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016) and Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009). He will be discussing refugee issues at the Human Disaster Institute’s Disaster Ministry Conference in June.


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Forgiveness after Traumatic Injury or Loss: Sometimes Opportunities Appear Out of the Mist

Posted by Dr. Everett L. Worthington Jr.

Girl Running 

"...the Holy Spirit can lead us, work within us, and direct us to external resources to help us forgive others and ourselves and to deal with any anger we might have toward God.” 

I was walking, really striding out, when I saw her emerge from the mist in the distance. She was walking so fast toward me that I expected one of those whhooo-eee Doppler-effect sounds as we passed each other. To my surprise, when she reached me, she reversed her trajectory and suddenly was walking beside me. I looked over. I didn’t know her.

“You’re a runner, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Well, I’ve run some, but can’t run as much these days.” I was actually more of an aging tennis player who ran as a way of building endurance for hard matches—then only reluctantly and with (if truth be known) a bit of grumbling.

“I used to run marathons,” she said. “But now I can’t. I have this, uh, bladder problem. I leak. My doctor won’t let me run.”

Wow. I did a double take. That is a pretty interesting conversational opening move. Felt a bit like TMI coming out of nowhere. I checked her face closely. She was beautiful, but nope, I still didn’t know her.

“My husband doesn’t understand why I am bothered by it. It’s causing some conflict.”

Double wow. I increased my speed. She easily matched it.

Seeing I couldn’t get away from the younger and fitter woman, I retreated into my professional training. I had spent a bunch of years studying couples counseling. So, I began talking with her about some things she could do to help her marriage, including forgiving the lack of understanding of her husband.

At the corner, we stopped for traffic, she faced me, grabbed my hand and shook it, and said, “Thank you for those suggestions. You’ve been very helpful.” Zing, she was gone.

I reflected on this strange encounter as I crossed the street. I suddenly realized I had my Richmond Marathon hat on. She saw me as a runner because of my runner’s uniform. The irony is, I have never run a marathon—not even a 5K. My wife got me that hat at a yard sale because it was a pretty light blue. (I felt like such a fraud.) But as I thought more about it, I realized that this was a lot like counseling. A stranger recognizes us as a potentially helpful person because of the counselor hat (i.e., the degree) we are wearing, confides a lot of personal things, and then moves out of our life. And God, with a great sense of humor, prepares us ahead of time with things we have a special calling to share, and then sometimes brings people to us for purposes we simply cannot understand yet we have (amazingly) just what they need at the time.

Put to the test

Out of mercy and grace, God gave me seven years to study forgiveness scientifically and about 15 years to practice helping couples forgive before I had to meet a really big test. In 1995 on New Year’s Eve night, my mother was murdered brutally. I had to forgive the young man who broke into her house and killed her with a crowbar. In my research group, we had developed an intervention to help people REACH Forgiveness (for many free resources, see, and I was able to use those five steps (i.e., R=Recalling the Hurt, E=Empathizing, A=Altruistically forgiving, C=Committing to forgiveness, and H=Holding on) to forgive the young man.

Almost 10 years after that, my brother, who had discovered my mother’s broken body, committed suicide. He could never get the images out of his mind, and in a state of depression, the self-condemnation was too much for him. I struggled with my own failure to help him kick the depression or even to convince him to get help. So, I wrestled with that self-condemnation until I used a six-step method we have developed to help people forgive themselves (again, see for explanation and practical resources, including a self-paced workbook).

Developing Forgiveness

In the church and in life outside the church, if we live long enough, we will have many experiences that are traumatic and that involve perceived hurts, injuries, and catastrophes. Sometimes we blame others, sometimes ourselves, sometimes we blame God. But the Holy Spirit can lead us, work within us, and direct us to external resources to help us forgive others and ourselves and to deal with any anger we might have toward God.

Help might just appear, like the runner who appeared out of the mist and walked beside me for a little while. Sometimes we seek help more deliberately, and yet God often leads us in many ways—through our study, external events, the help of others, Scripture, reading, or the support of those in church and family. God is good and eager to help us in our times of need. Often part of that help is activated by getting past resentment, bitterness, anger, and anxiety, and feelings of injustice or even unforgiveness that come with great hurts. We can begin to heal if we move to forgiveness. When that occurs, sometimes we find that God was there beside us all along, but we were just too wrapped up in our pain, disappointment, and anger to notice.

Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Commonwealth Professor in the department of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, is a Christian psychologist who has published 35 books and over 400 articles and chapters. He says that his life calling has been to do all he can to promote forgiveness in every willing heart, home, and homeland.


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