A natural disaster - such as an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood, or fire - strikes not just at people's health and property, but also at their faith. In the face of a disaster, people often wonder whether God is really present with them. Your ministry to people victimized by natural disasters is a channel through which God's very real grace can flow, bringing healing to those who are hurting.

Here are some ways you can help people recover from natural disasters:

  • Encourage people to express their thoughts and feelings to you, and listen well. Help them sort through their questions, confusion, and doubts, recognizing that all are normal to have after suffering great loss. Don't become defensive if someone says something negative about God. Although God never causes suffering, we live in a fallen world, and God sometimes allows suffering to accomplish certain purposes (some of which we can know, and some of which we can't). Help people through their grieving process by being there for them as a representative of Christ, showing His love to them.

  • Ask people in need what specific ways you can help them the most rather than assuming a certain plan of action before talking with them.

  • Since recovery efforts often take a prolonged period of time - sometimes several months or even years - it is important to pace yourself so you and others working with you don't become exhausted. Don't be overwhelmed by the amount of work before you. Just strive to be faithful doing the particular tasks God has called you to do and cooperate with others who are joining you in the effort.

  • Pray often for people hurt by natural disasters, and share Scripture passages that speak of God's promises and the hope Christ offers.

  • Assure people that God loves them because they are His children and not because of anything they've done or anything they have. Natural disasters often destroy the property that people have worked hard to accumulate and that the world often admires them for, but none of those things ultimately matter to God.

  • Look for opportunities to build genuine friendships with people affected by natural disasters, and ask God to use those friendships to teach you and them more about giving, receiving, and working together.

  • Help people who want to reorganize their priorities after a disaster figure out how best to do it. Listen to their ideas and pray with them for discernment from God.

Adapted from Act of God/Active God: Recovering from Natural Disasters, copyright 2001 by Gary Harbaugh. Published by Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minn., www.fortresspress.com, 1-800-328-4648.

Gary L. Harbaugh, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Care, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, and he currently serves as a Care for the Caregiver pastoral resource person for Lutheran Disaster Response. He is the author of a number of books.

Have you ever experienced a natural disaster such as an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood, or fire? If so, what losses did you suffer during that experience? Did the experience cause you to think more about faith issues? If so, how? Did God use volunteers to minister to you? If so, how did they make a difference in your life? Visit the Books Forum to discuss this topic. Just click on the link below.