Wednesday (June 29th), I had the opportunity to go to Minot, ND with a visiting mission team and serve as a disaster relief chaplain for a day. I jumped at the chance to put all of that time spent training for just such a time into practice. It took a lot longer time to get to the church than normal because of the detours around flooded areas, some of which you can see in the picture. Our task was to help one of our local churches in Minot that was holding a community block party, both for those who needed a break from all the stress in the flood fight and as a way to reach out to some of those affected by the flooding.
Both of our DBC churches in Minot are in areas that are out of the flood zone and so they are serving as a base to help others in need. This plays out in many ways: housing, storage, a place for another local church to meet that has been displaced and so on. The funny thing about disaster relief, at least from what I was told before yesterday is that you have no idea what you will do until you start doing it. Flexibility is a big part of disaster relief, and I am very thankful that I learned that characteristic well by participating in many youth mission trips and summer missions appointments over the years.
The original plan for those of us serving as chaplains was to set up an area under the tent where people could come to talk or pray with us. We also could meander and engage people in conversation to give them a chance to talk. What I ended up doing was talking to a couple of people very briefly before I started making a small batch of balloon animals for some kids (it is a great way to get a chance to talk to them to be sure). Then I found myself helping the pastor of the church, Dan, make a sweep through the building to be sure that a couple of guys weren’t causing trouble inside. My biggest accomplishment for the day was probably getting Dan to stop long enough to eat a meal for the first time all day (at 5PM).
The more I have reflected on the experience, both in the 4 or so hours of travel to get back home last night and the ensuing day, the more I realized a couple of salient thoughts that I felt like sharing with our little blogging community.
Whoever thought that disaster relief could be integrated or combined with planting churches is crazy. It’s a strong statement to be sure, but my first up close experience in disaster relief work confirmed my suspicions in this. I ran into people who were far more concerned with getting water to drink and making sure that the water in the pipes was at least safe enough to take a shower with without risking disease than anything deeply spiritual or even mundanely spiritual. Pondering church planting strategies in disaster relief situations would come across as completely thoughtless and little better help than the musicians who played as the Titanic sank. Maybe the ship could have stayed afloat a little longer if they had bailed water instead, I don’t know. Maybe we can make a much bigger impact in both the short and long term if we focus disaster relief completely on impacting needs in the moment and don’t try to worry about how we can “make a church” out of it.
My second thought has to do with ministry itself. I don’t know about you, but I tend to try and “rate” how much I have accomplished in ministering sometimes. It may not sound very spiritual, but it is what it is. As we were returning I reflected on the events of the day. I don’t get to put any “statistics” in my chaplain report form on NAMB.net, but I briefly outlined the stories that I have just shared with you and it struck me. Effective ministry is affective ministry. In other words, if you want to “succeed” in ministry there is one simple thing that you must do.
Jesus once told a parable about three servants who were given varying amounts of money to handle while their master was gone. When the master returned, two of the guys had doubled their original allotment and the third guy had just sat on it. The reaction of the master, and by extension the point of Jesus’ lesson, is that it is better to try and fail utterly than to not bother at all. We sometimes get the mentality that we shouldn’t do anything unless we can do it right (maybe that is just me). It is a total lie. God is an expert at taking our pathetic best and using it for more than we can imagine. We may feel helpless or insignificant at times. Ministering in the midst of a massive disaster like we saw in Minot certainly makes that more likely. But never let that feeling keep you from simply taking the time and the effort to minister to those God places in your life day-to-day.
One last thing, please pray for the people in Minot and also for those along the Missouri river who are experiencing similar flooding and disaster. Give if you can and go if you are able.