Prepare the Heart
Preparing action plans and skills is important, but so is preparing the heart. Humility is one of the most important qualities a volunteer can bring to disaster ministry. Scripture is clear that humility is essential to service. Jesus instructs his disciples that “[a]nyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). He also preaches it publicly, saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11 - 12).
Humble helpers are able to listen well and accept their own limitations. They don’t assume they know the best way to help, but they are able to pay attention to what is going on in the situation and listen to the survivors, offering help that actually helps.
Practice, Practice, Practice
As with any new task, practice is important in figuring out what works and learning and mastering the required skills. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for a disaster to give volunteers the practice they need to be prepared in a real-life situation. Encourage your leadership team to volunteer with established response organizations (e.g., Samaritan’s Purse) or with ministries that serve the vulnerable in your community (e.g. homeless ministries) to learn the ropes and gain practical experience they can then bring to your ministry. Connect with local emergency management or CERT teams who can help you set up practice response drills for volunteers. Take advantage of the many regular webinars and online courses in disaster emergency management skills offered by FEMA. Offer first aid classes to gain basic emergency medical skills. Begin engaging and connecting with your community through service projects: these not only help volunteers practice skills, but they build relationships that may lead to more collaboration when a disaster hits.
For specific, technical tools and resources to build training and evaluation plans, FEMA has put together this helpful guide. The Humanitarian Disaster Institute also has a collection of tip sheets covering a range of skills and practices for volunteers. For more on building a disaster ministry and training volunteers, see the Disaster Ministry Handbook, which I co-wrote, or consider joining us next June at our 2018 Disaster Minister Conference.
Dr. Jamie D. Aten is a disaster psychologist and the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois. His latest books include the Disaster Ministry Handbook and Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma. You can follow Jamie on Twitter at @drjamieaten or visit his website jamieaten.com.
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