The Church is the largest civil society network in the world. Where the
need is greatest, you will find a church. That’s why Tearfund has, over
the last 50 years, chosen to work through the local church as we live
out our call to follow Jesus where the need is greatest. The local
church knows the needs of the community and how best to respond — it is
faithfully present throughout every chapter.

When disasters happen, the Church is one of the first places people turn to for both emotional and physical support. Yet disaster management or crisis management is rarely taught at theological training colleges. Right now, I suspect many of us are wishing we understood a bit more about it!

As we face the challenge of Coronavirus it is overwhelming, and we are in uncharted territory. As the Church, we have an opportunity to use our unique position to shine as the light of the world at a very dark time. 

This is not the first challenge the global Church has encountered. History shows again and again how churches are uniquely placed to respond to disaster. Here are five examples that will encourage you today.

The local church can respond quickly and immediately. In 2013, a garment factory in Bangladesh, called The Rana Plaza, collapsed — crushing thousands of people. As workers were trapped amongst the rubble, local church volunteers who had been trained in earthquake response by Tearfund’s partner were immediately able to assist in the search and rescue, helping to retrieve survivors. 

The local church can provide resources to help respond. Not only do churches have buildings and land, but people are a key resource, too. On a visit to Mozambique last year I was blown away by a group of Tearfund volunteers from local churches. Following Cyclone Idai, they distributed food to the vulnerable and taught basic hygiene. Every volunteer I spoke to had been personally affected by the cyclone but was still giving up their time to care for people in their communities.

The local church can provide compassion and care. After the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, the Pentecostal Mission in Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands, served food to more than 500 people a day as well as listening to and praying for people living in a camp. One church member said: We learnt to serve without expecting anything back.”

The local church can bring hope. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, it was the local churches that helped turn the tide against the disease. In research following the outbreak, we found that public health messages that has been delivered — with a Biblical basis — by church leadership had been successful in generating hope in a time of fear. These messages enabled a change in the hearts and minds of communities. 

The local church can pray.The Church has been given the full armour of God to respond to the brokenness of this world (Ephesians 6:10 – 20). In all of Tearfund’s work, we mobilise churches to pray. There is no underestimating the power of prayer. Jesus understands our fears and worries and asks us to bring them to Him in prayer (1 Peter 5:7).

All of these examples help us to consider how as the Church we can respond to the crisis we are facing today. Here is some further reading on this:

A recent report from Imperial College London has identified that the effect of Coronavirus is likely to be most severe in lower income settings, where capacity is lowest. To slow the spread of the virus and limit this impact on people living in poverty, Tearfund has launched crucial resources containing life-saving health advice to help our church partners and networks to support communities.

They have gone to 250 of our partners already, which will benefit up to 15,000 local churches and their wider communities. We pray the Church will help to turn the tide. 

At Tearfund we are continuing our lifesaving work whilst adapting our plans and making new ones to tackle the pandemic, focusing on the clean water and crucial safe hygiene practices needed to limit the spread of coronavirus. Please consider supporting Tearfund’s work during the Coronavirus pandemic. You can give here today.

Ruth Koch is the Northern Ireland Director at Tearfund. She has been working with the UK Church to respond to global poverty through Tearfund for the past 10 years. When she’s not working she loves baking and her family.