Disaster Response is a Way to Transform the World for Jesus Christ

October 08, 2020

The fourth quarter of CNUMC Wednesday Webinars started on October 7th, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. hosted by Dr. Reginald T. Nichols, Director of Leadership Development. The panel discussion featured two guests, Sonja Edd-Bennett, Director of the Disaster Response Ministry, and Leslie Carmichael of Los Altos UMC. Carmichael is the volunteer Early Response Team (ERT) coordinator under Edd-Bennett’s supervision. The Zoom presentation delineated ways to connect churches with people impacted by disaster in order to provide caring ministry.

“Disaster response is a way to transform the world for Jesus Christ,” said Edd-Bennett. “And just like the Good Samaritan example, we know we cannot do it all alone. We know we are called to do something. We cannot just walk on by. At what point do we get involved? Disaster response is very much a ministry that each and every church should be involved in, in some way.”

“We want you to be prepared and knowledgeable,” said Edd-Bennett. Her computer popped up on the Zoom screen to show  a list of the “4 Things to Know When Disaster Strikes” including: 1) Community Response; 2) Conference Response; 3) Congregational Response; and 4.) Capacity.  “…we want you to know about the community response—what happens within the community when a disaster strikes and then, how do we, as a conference, respond—what is our role from the conference level and how do we show up…and then what is a congregational response—what are the things you can do.”

Edd-Bennett explained that at the community response phase, after a crisis incident, city and county authorities contact local pre-determined partners, one of which may be a local church. Then, if needed, the sheriff communicates evacuations and closures. When local response is not enough, a state response is requested in cooperation with the county such as support for a Local Assistance Center (LAC) and contact with Voluntary Agencies Active in Disasters (VOAD) as well as determining the need for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance.

At the church conference level, the situation is monitored by district superintendents and the Director of Disaster Response Ministry (DDRM) giving support to local churches and pastors as requested. When a Local Assistance Center  (LAC) opens in an area, the conference may contact the LAC coordinator, statewide disaster relief organizations and FEMA, if involved. Determinations are made as to when and where an Early Response Team (ERT) from the conference is sent and how it will engage with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Edd-Bennett shared the ERT deployment protocols delineating low to high levels of responses. Local churches relay information to district superintendents and the conference office of Disaster Response to help monitor the level of need and activate necessary conference-wide resources such as the ERT and added UMCOR relief supplies, some of which are kept in various churches around the conference.

At the local church level, UMCs donate funds and supplies to create Fire Buckets, Cleaning Buckets, gift cards and more—before, during and after disasters. Local churches can also be used as a shelter, distribution or storage center.

How can a church better prepare or increase their capacity of response? Edd-Bennett stated that churches can take surveys in the “Connecting Neighbors” UMCOR disaster readiness curriculum. (Read HERE) Churches can create their own Disaster Response Team that may include trustees (for building issues), finance personnel (for financial issues) and volunteer coordinators (to recruit and organize people)—all depending on the level of response the church is capable of providing.

Volunteers for the Early Response Team (ERT) come from local churches, too. But, upcoming ERT trainings have been postponed until after the COVID-19 pandemic because the one-day training must be conducted in-person. Carmichael stressed the need for more volunteers to be trained and for churches to alert members of the training dates when they are announced.

“We would ideally like to have trained ERTs spread all throughout the conference,” stated Carmichael. “The rule of thumb is that if you want 5 ERTs to be able to respond, you have to have at least 50 trained ones on your list.”

“Diversity is underrepresented in our disaster response,” said Edd-Bennett explained. “We would encourage those of you who have congregations who speak different languages, that have different cultures that you would consider engaging them in disaster response…it’s so critical that we remain culturally relevant in our disaster response.”

Contributions and volunteers are coordinated by the conference Disaster Response Ministry office. Edd-Bennett emphasized the importance of local congregations connecting with their superintendents and the conference, especially if the disaster is local.
“The communication with the conference office is so critical,” said Edd-Bennett. “It’s important for the right hand and the left hand to know what we’re doing because we--at the conference office as a national VOAD partner and as UMCOR—are continually preparing to respond, but we want to make sure though that we are responding in collaboration, in coordination, in communication with you as the [local] church because the first rule of disaster is that every disaster starts and stops locally.”

To receive alerts and updates about emergencies in your community, text your zip code to 888-777 or go to nixle.com and enter the zip codes in the drop-down box.

This webinar, the Power Point presentation, and other resources are posted at cnumc.org. The Disaster Ministry webpage lists how to give financially and through donations including how to make a wildfire bucket. Information to create other UMCOR kits. To connect with Edd-Bennett, email her at sonjaeb@calnevumc.org or call (916)715-7401.

Next week’s webinar, “Rebooting Worship” with Martha McFee will include ideas for the upcoming Advent season.