disaster relief
U.S. Marines unload their helicopter as they bring aid for earthquake victims (Reuters/Damir Sagolj )

By taking just a few simple steps of preparation, Christians can not only save countless lives, we can also truly be “salt and light” for the world when crisis hits

After New York City’s World Trade Center was bombed in the 1990s, a man who worked in the Twin Towers planned an escape route for himself should a similar disaster occur again. When a plane struck his building on Sept. 11, 2001, the man was trapped on one of the floors above the point of impact. Heeding the warning and following his predetermined plan, he was one of the few in that section of the building who made it out alive.

This man’s preparedness helped to save his life. Instead of being reactive when crisis hit, he was proactive because he had a plan and had prepared himself for whatever came his way. Sadly, that’s rarely the case. I’m always amazed that just before disasters, when warnings are given days in advance, such as with hurricanes, the majority of people have to go shopping for emergency supplies that should have already been in place at home. The supplies may be gone and shelves empty within a few hours.

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, for example, many in New Orleans did not heed the warnings or develop a plan for handling a break in the levees. The possibility of such a breach had been discussed for years before the disaster occurred. Yes, there were governmental snafus, but individual preparedness could have resulted in a lower death toll. Proverbs 27:12 says, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” (NIV).

For Such a Time as This
In the nearly three decades I have spent in medical missions, I have traveled to 105 nations and have gained a unique perspective on world events and human suffering. As a physician, I have organized and led medical teams in a number of major world disasters since the early 1990s. From cyclones devastating Bangladesh, to the refugee camps created by the Rwandan Civil War, to hurricane-ravaged Nicaragua and Honduras, to tsunami devastation in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and earthquakes around the world, I have been there. Leading teams into these areas of desperate need and destruction has given me the practical experience to now turn my attention to the United States.

I have recently had a sense of urgency to challenge and prepare individuals and churches in the United States to be ready for the disasters we are facing. There has been a tremendous increase in the frequency and severity of disasters over the past few years. Whether man-made or natural, the word disaster seems more and more a part of our lives. What is most disturbing to me as I travel and speak around the U.S., however, is that around 90 percent of people are unprepared for even common disasters.

At one conference, where first responders made up the majority of the audience, very few of them had actually made preparations for their own families. They were trained and ready to help others, but had neglected their personal preparedness. It reminds me of the story of the cobbler whose children had no shoes.

For some time I have felt the need to address the issue of disaster preparedness from a Christian perspective. Why Christians? Doesn’t everyone need to be ready for emergencies? The answer is, of course, yes. However, those who believe in the God of the Bible, have a personal faith in Jesus Christ and accept that the Bible is true, have a unique worldview. Disasters give unprecedented opportunities for believers to be “salt and light.” In times of crisis, Christians and churches can—and should—play a unique role in responding to those in need. The church is a natural haven of refuge in troubled times.

If You Cry “Wolf” One More Time
We are living in troubled times. Everywhere I travel people share with me a feeling of uncertainty and unease about the future. Many speak about the need to be prepared, but too few follow through.

One of many challenges I face when encouraging people to be prepared is the hysteria that swirled around Y2K for several years before Jan. 1, 2000, which left many people skeptical when no major problems occurred. For some people, it was like the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” However, I believe major disasters were averted due to the incredible efforts made to minimize any negative impact.

Just like the years before Y2K, there are concerns that the increase in disasters in America is related to the possible return of Jesus Christ. The Bible states graphically that there will be a period of increasing troubles on earth prior to the return of Jesus. There will be wars, famines, diseases, earthquakes and other disasters.

Many Christians believe God will spare them from the prophesied disasters by taking them to heaven (rapture) before the worst problems occur. This belief has hindered some Christians from taking practical steps for disaster preparedness.

Reputable prophets warn that the turmoil in the Middle East may break out into a full-blown war between Israel and its hostile neighbors before the end of this year. Other prophecies warn of international economic collapse and various natural disasters, including major earthquakes. Should these prophecies be accurate, there will be major worldwide economic and governmental upheavals resulting in skyrocketing prices for essential goods with food shortages reaching catastrophic levels. Such events portend civil unrest.

I believe we have a window of time to get prepared now, before the end of 2012. I believe we are in a “Joseph situation.” He was instructed to prepare for a looming crisis. His actions saved not only Egypt, but also his family and surrounding nations, from starvation.

Ready or Not?
I challenge you to take immediate steps to be prepared to face emergencies and disasters, both natural and man-made. Too many people in the United States have grown accustomed to the idea that it is the responsibility of the government—local, state or national—to take care of emergencies or respond to disasters. For most disasters and emergencies, this works out just fine. But as Hurricane Katrina vividly demonstrated, when hundreds of thousands of people are affected at one time, the normal emergency structures are overwhelmed and the state of individual preparedness becomes crucial. If you are prepared, you will often be in a position to help your family and neighbors and not be a drain on rescue efforts.

If you have not prepared for emergencies and disasters, you have an increased likelihood of becoming a victim who will need assistance. When major disasters strike, it may take days before rescue teams can reach you. Your preparedness may make the difference between life and death. Be prepared. Don’t be a victim!

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