File photo: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

By Katelin van Zyl

On Sunday, 15 October, another earthquake of 6.3 magnitude (and 6.3km depth) struck western Afghanistan, only a few days after a series of earthquakes left more than 2,000 people dead in the province of Herat. Earlier in October, southern Mexico was shaken by an earthquake of 5.9-magnitude with a depth of 108km. These natural disasters are some of the latest natural disasters to bring death and destruction to communities around the world. Some other disasters in 2023 include the Türkiye-Syria and Morocco earthquakes, Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar and Bangladesh, extreme flooding in China, and the continuation of the drought in the Horn of Africa. In Matthew 24:8 and Luke 21:11, Jesus tells us to expect earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places (along with wars, rumours of wars and hostility between nations). These events are the “beginning of birth pains” as we move towards when Jesus will return for His Bride (the Church). We are told to be prepared for Him to return at any time, being busy with what God has assigned us to do and not being distracted by the things of the world (including the anxieties of life) or deceived by others. We are also warned that persecution of Christians will increase before the end of the age, and believers will be hated because they follow Jesus. The “increase of wickedness” will cause “the love of most [to] grow cold”, and “many will turn away from the faith and betray and hate each other”. But those who “stand firm to the end will be saved”, so this should encourage us to remain faithful and be intentional about living a life devoted to Christ. Jesus tells us that the Gospel will be preached to all nations before the end comes, and we can be a part of this advancement of the Kingdom throughout the world. (Matthew 24:4-14; Luke 21:5-36; Matthew 25).

As we seek to be prepared for Christ’s return, we also know that the Church can be prepared for these various crises. Although the principles remain the same, the details of crisis preparedness may look slightly different for different believers, churches, and ministries, depending on how the Holy Spirit leads. For some, this may be to equip believers to be trauma counsellors, for others, it may be involvement in building more resilient infrastructure in places vulnerable to specific natural disasters, while for others it may be preparing to use their facilities as shelters if people are displaced by natural disasters or conflict. Risk assessment and management can provide the Church with many helpful tools to prepare for any kind of risk, especially those in positions of leadership who are stewarding people and other resources and need to make difficult decisions in complex situations. One example of a church responding to a crisis is the Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church in Cairo, located a block away from Tahrir Square. Just before the violent second wave of the Egyptian revolution fuelled by the Arab Spring that affected many countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, the church prayed about how to better conduct outreach in their community. Church members reportedly had done training in setting up a field hospital, and when the violent protests broke out shortly thereafter, the church became a field hospital ready to receive the hundreds of people injured and in need of medical care, irrespective of their views towards the Christian Church or their role in the revolution. The church became widely known as ‘the shelter of Egypt’. Seeing the revolution as a ministry opportunity for the church, they were also involved in cleaning debris from Tahrir Square and were one of the first places to offer grief counselling to families who had lost loved ones in the revolution.

Many countries in the ‘10/40 Window’ (geographic area between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator with a length stretching from North Africa to Asia), otherwise known as ‘The Resistant Belt’ (containing most of the world’s ‘least reached’ or ‘unreached’ people groups) are prone to natural disasters and require socio-economic development. Thus, there are numerous opportunities for the Church to use disaster preparedness, response, and restoration as a tool to spread the Gospel in this region. According to the World Bank, between 1970 and 2022, 82% of deaths caused by extreme weather and natural hazards affected low- and lower-middle-income countries. Disaster risk reduction is considered an important aspect of climate change adaptation and can have meaningful economic and social benefits. On 13 October, which is the annual International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, UN officials drew attention to the link between inequality and disasters in the Caribbean context, which applies to many other settings around the world that are prone to natural hazards and extreme weather. Addressing inequality is seen as a way to improve the safety of all so that marginalised communities are not affected disproportionately. At the same time, reducing the risk of disasters can provide a platform to combat inequality. The local and global Church, being aware of these dynamics, can seek the Lord’s guidance in how to respond to the times we find ourselves in and the opportunities around us. Investment in disaster preparedness can equip local churches to have a longer-lasting impact in their communities and can lead to many other opportunities for years to come.

Please join us in prayer for the following:

  • For local churches to be proactive in seeking the Lord’s will in investing in disaster preparedness
  • For the Church to be equipped in how to better engage in crisis preparedness, response and restoration
  • For disaster preparedness to lead not only to climate change adaptation and socio-economic development but many people coming to know the saving love of God, who made all people to be in a relationship with Him