The Ministry of Presence

Emptying houses of flood damaged posessions
Emptying houses of flood damaged possessions

I just returned home from the East Coast, where I spent ten days assisting people whose homes were damaged by the torrential rains and floods in South Carolina earlier this month.  I’m a reservist with Hope Force International, a disaster response agency that seeks to mobilize the Christian community to bring hope to those affected by crisis or disaster.

Dark line on insulation shows the depth of water in this basement
Dark line on insulation shows the depth of water in this basement

My primary responsibility was administrative — tracking people, finances, and jobs so that everything ran as smoothly as the unpredictability of such work allows.  But I did get dirty pulling carpet, moving furniture, and cutting wet drywall and soaked insulation out of walls. I also worked in a warehouse for a couple of days, coordinating volunteers who were taking bulk goods and breaking them down into family-size kits for distribution.

Mobile home roof collapsed from weight of rainwater
Mobile home roof collapsed from weight of rainwater

While helping to address physical needs is a necessary and appropriate response to crisis, Hope Force is also deeply committed to the “Ministry of Presence”, just being with people to provide the hope and comfort that helps them cope with their circumstances. Hope Force deploys trained chaplains alongside the physical laborers, and every Hope Force reservist has been trained to care about people more than the work.

Warehouse work
Warehouse work

Just a few examples of how this works:  A couple days after working on one family’s house, the woman’s brother died and the Hope Force team was among the first people she sought out for prayer and comfort. A couple of teammates stood with another homeowner, advocating with a less-than-cooperative insurance adjuster to help the homeowner get a fair appraisal. A young man who had been in jail and other kinds of trouble couldn’t understand why we would volunteer to help his mother. After two days of building relationship with one of my teammates and asking a lot of questions, this man decided that if a relationship with Christ resulted in this kind of life, he wanted that for himself.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 tells us not to boast of our own wisdom, strength, or riches.  It says, “but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.” (NASB)

Let’s not fail to recognize the power of demonstrating love in the Name of Christ. That love may open the door to present the saving truth of the Gospel message to someone.  But even if it doesn’t, God delights in our faithful, sacrificial acts of love, justice, and righteousness regardless of the outcome.

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