How to Comfort and Help Those Going Through a Natural Disaster

Superstorm Sandy

On Monday, Oct 29, Superstorm Sandy first hit Atlantic City, New Jersey around 8pm EST and continued to move north impacting more than 10 states, with New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania getting hit the hardest.  It’s still too early to know the full impact, but estimates now show Sandy as the second costliest in modern history after Hurricane Katrina.  While many are marshaling forces to send massive and immediate aid to the victims in central and the northeastern United States, many who are not in the immediate area are often unsure of the most effective way to respond.

As followers of Christ we are called to set the example and show God’s love to those who are hurting and who are in need.  In 1 John 3:18 (NLT) we read, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”  Massive storms and wide spread damage are very difficult, yet followers of Christ can step up and show God’s love through the difficulties.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

As you consider how to respond, I want to point out the difference between sympathy and empathy.  Webster defines sympathy as, “the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another”, while empathy is defined as, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”  Often, when such tragedy strikes, we feel for those who are impacted but this is not enough.  The Bible clearly challenges us to act, or emphasize, for those facing such tragedy.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. – James 2:14–17 (NIV)

How Can We Respond?

So how can we respond in a way that demonstrates our love for God and others?


Many probably expected this to be the first thing recommended, but I want you to consider why you must pray.  Prayer is a way to communicate with God.  Communication involves both talking and listening, so I encourage prayer first so that you can listen for direction from the Living God and allow Him to guide you in your response.  Prayer is also a way to combat anxiety and worry, which can negatively impact our response.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

We must also be interceding in prayer on behalf of the victims.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people… – 1 Timothy 2:1 (NIV)

We must intercede for God’s mercy and their protection as well as asking God to make His presence and peace known to each person.

Don’t React but Respond

Reacting to situations like this can lead us to make irrational and irresponsible decisions in our response.  We typically react to relieve our conscience and feel like we’ve done our part.

The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. – Proverbs 14:8 (NIV)

We must give prudent thought to who, what, when and how we will support victims of natural disasters.

Give Through Your Local Church

Many people wonder who to give to when natural disasters like Sandy take place.  I always encourage giving to take place through your local churches.  Every church has the ability to establish a designated account and to accept donations for disaster relief assistance.  Working through your local church provides you the following:

  • A trusted organization – Typically, your pastoral staff and leadership are trusted to make good and godly decisions.  They will be empowered to determine where to most effectively invest the funds for relief efforts.
  • A holding place for funds – Individuals can give rather quickly to their church while providing enough time for the leadership to make a prudent decision with those funds.
  • A positive witness – The gift can come from the church in the name of Jesus.  What better way to shine the light of Christ in such difficult times?  Proverbs 19:17 (NIV) states, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”

If giving through your church is not possible, find a trusted and credible organization to support.  One resource you can use to help is the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountabilities’ (ECFA) Servant Match.  ServantMatch is provided by ECFA to allow donors to quickly and easily find giving opportunities for participating ECFA accredited organizations.  Just click on “Key Words” tab and type in “Hurricane Sandy” for a list of organizations that are accredited by ECFA.

Serve on a Relief and Recovery Team

Serving on a relief and recovery team is a great way to serve others.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithfulstewards of God’s grace in its various forms. – 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

There are two types of teams to consider volunteering for when a disaster like this strikes.

The first category is a “First Response Team” which is typically comprised of highly trained disaster relief personnel, medical and first responders.  This is a more select group that will typically respond through their respective organizations.

A second category of relief and recovery teams is a “Disaster Response Team”.  This type of team comes into the affected area after first responders have met immediate needs and is focused on the long-term rebuilding of the affected area.  These types of teams are made up of individuals trained in construction, plumbing, carpentry, counselors and general laborers.

Stay the Course

Did you know that some organizations are still involved with Haiti relief, Japan and other disasters?  Oftentimes, we will react or respond emotionally when the media is covering the disaster, but will fail to partner in long-term rebuilding and recovery.  2 Corinthians 8:11 (NIV) encourages us, “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.”

I encourage you to find an organization or church that is committed to real long-term partnership with rebuilding.  Then, find out how you can pray, serve or give to assist in these long-term efforts.  It’s long-term commitment that helps restore infrastructure likes homes, school, churches and community facilities.  I also believe it demonstrates empathy vs. sympathy and shines the light of Christ in areas many will have forgotten about.

How can you help during natural disasters? What’s holding you back? Leave a comment!

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  1. TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    I don’t usually do anything for natural disasters that aren’t in my area. But when things happen in my area, natural disasters, freak accidents, or whatever, I usually just head to where it is with blankets, water, food, and a smile. Works wonders. And the thing is, when someone’s apartmtn building just burned down, they need a blanket NOW and water NOW…not in the time it takes a relief organization to figure out what they’re doing. So I like doing it this way. Of course this only works for local stuff, not far away.

  2. Tory Ruark

    TB, hopefully when you go you know the scenario. You probably do because you are going to local ones. I have seen in Haiti how people who “just show up” are more harm than help. We definitely need to be strategic and I think groups like the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, etc. are good at that emergency part. Unfortunately, they often stay too long and make it worse. The best thing anyone can do is partner with groups that were active in an area before the tragedy and are still active. They know the needs best, know how to navigate the red tape, and have the ability to follow-through with people.

  3. Brian Stark

    Thanks for the good reminder Chris! Having had the privilege to make multiple trips after Hurricane Katrina, I’ve seen first hand the positive, on-going and life-changing impact people can have when they go and serve alongside churches or organizations who are coordinating the recovery efforts in affected areas. As the mayor of Slidell, Louisiana told me months after hurricane Katrina, “If it wasn’t for the church, we’d still be stuck in the mud!”

    • Mike

      Two acts of God on two wicked citys. God is long suffering not forever suffering. See Sodum and Gamora.

  4. Mike

    Livng on/near the coast and or below sea level has risk. If you can’t afford the loss, move inland. If most of your eggs are in a basket at risk you can’t afford it. Oh and same applys to your retirement/savings. The govt subsidized insurance for said is not susstainable along with numerious current govt spending. Are you ready or is your basket going to emptied soon?

  5. Amircar "Micky" Diaz

    This is indeed a great article! I live only 45 minutes from Atlantic City where Hurricane Sandy made landfall. There was no doubt in my heart, mind, and spirit that God’s hand was upon us while the storm was passing over our area. We only last electric for 40 minutes during that time. God is indeed Faithful and True to His word when it involves how He takes care of His children! Keep the faith!

  6. Mike

    How about NOT moving back to Sodum or Gamora? Moab just aint all that.