I was originally going to title this post; “What Short-Term Missionaries Can Learn from the Ecuadorean Earthquake,” but it seemed to narrow. Whether you do short of long-term mission work, there are some valuable lessons to be learn in disaster relief efforts.
As some of you may already know, a 7.8 earthquake that it many regions along the Ecuadorean coast. To put it in perspective, a 7.8 earthquake is similar to having 20 thermonuclear hydrogen bombs – each many times greater than the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima go off simultaneously. Let that sink in for a moment.
While I was already going to the coast to lay some ground-work for future mission endeavors, the earthquake(s) changed everything. I was still able to get to my focused area and do some of that ground work, but immediate needs presided.
I have been in country for over 10 years and have seen some pretty devastating things, prevalent poverty, and the sort of stuff that most are completely unaware of. This trip changed my perspective once more.
As we traveled to the earthquake affected areas, we encountered split roads, mud-slides, collapsed homes, people begging… yes, begging for water, and the smell of death. It’s hard to dwell on those things while real people suffer. You almost have to detach in order to engage, but not so much as forget that you and all involved are human beings. Of course there will be both those who serve and those who are being served that will take advantage of others, place agenda over people, and stake claims on denominational influence, territory, and destabilizing ‘spiritual’ competition. Fortunately we saw VERY little of that.
I was observing all that I could over this past week and engaged numerous people in genuine conversation. I listened, meditated, and stored many thoughts in my somewhat scattered brain to process later. This will be a series of posts reflecting on the events from last week, but I wanted to mention a few things here;
- No matter how prepared you think you are to serve in mission, relief efforts, or any other targeted work, you’re probably not, and it’s okay… until… your unpreparedness, materially; mentally; or otherwise, actually hurts someone else or detracts from the relief efforts to those in the most need. Here in Ecuador, many volunteers were overcome by the horrendous nature of what they say and experienced and complicated efforts.
- Do your homework before coming. Whether it be for a short time or a long one, find out which organizations and or persons are already on the ground and how you can aid in processes that have already been initiated. Also, think about ‘second causes.’ How will your efforts fall in a chain of events? For example, tons of food have been sent to the earthquake effected areas, but the people have lost all of their pots, pans, eating utencils, etc. So, there was some food that rotted and added to the diseases that were ‘floating around.’
- Sustain yourself. Yes, bring food, water, resources, etc., to those in need, but don’t plan on siphoning off those resources, either in part or in whole for yourself. Energy bars, personal water filtration units, and your meds are critical for being in the best condition to serve.
- Travel as light as possible and leave whatever you don’t need behind.
- Give the gospel a break. Yes, you read that right. You’re not here to ‘get people saved.’ You’re here to minister in a crisis. The gospel will naturally flow from acts of mercy, kindness, and grace as long as you’re disposed to carry those attitudes.
- Unbelieving image bearers can give you insights into faith that you have never thought of. Be listeners more than proselytizers.
- Understand that the cost of service can be exponentially more than you are willing to pay. The earthquake affected areas here already had Zika, Dengue, and Yellow Fever issues. The amount of corpses only increase the chances of those diseases being transmitted to otherwise healthy people.
All of these disaster preparedness ideas also apply to ongoing consistent mission work as well. If you have other suggestions or advice feel free to leave them in the comment section.
Lord willing, I’ll be heading back to the affected areas with a better understanding of how to be most helpful. The real work… yes, real work will begin when folks start to forget about what has happened here. The area that I was working in had aftershocks almost every 15 minutes for a full day. I pray that nothing ‘bigger’ is coming.
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