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Rick Warren
Spiritual Life

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HURRICANE KATRINA

This Could be the Church’s Finest Hour

By Rick Warren
Pastors.com

CBN.com -- I spent three days this week in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. The physical devastation is even worse than what you see on TV. The sights and sounds and smells are overwhelming.

But what is really painful is the emotional and spiritual toll from the storm. More than a million people lost virtually everything in an instant. Their homes are destroyed. Their jobs are gone. All their possessions are lost. And at least some member of their family is missing or dead. Every single person I talked to had a family member who was missing.

As I saw the sights and talked to the people, God taught me seven lessons:

Those who had the least, lost the most. The majority of the people we met in the stricken areas were the poorest of the poor – people who had next to nothing before Katrina took that little bit away. Now they have nothing at all.

Suffering does not discriminate. In a part of the nation where racial tensions still tend to run high, people are reaching out to each other regardless of color. Walls are being broken down by common need. As people work together to help the helpless, barriers are coming down.

Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity. When disaster strikes, it hits everyone. No one who survives wants, needs, or deserves to be looked on as a charity case. The pastor of one church that took in 800 flood survivors announced: “This is now a city, and I’m the mayor. The law of the land is the law of love. That means to put others before yourself.” The result has been stunning, as people learn to love with the heart of Christ. It’s important to realize survivors are not necessarily helpless people; they just need to be shown how to help others and themselves.

There is power in presence. That’s what my wife Kay calls it – presence. Jesus accomplished so much with just a word, a look, a touch. We need to be like Jesus. As we arrived in each place, the welcome we received was almost embarrassing – even before we’d done anything. It was all about the power of just being there.

Every disaster presents an opportunity for new direction. Every problem has possibility. Every hurt is an opportunity for new ministry. In the greatest hurt is the greatest opportunity for ministry. When an unprecedented disaster occurs, you have an unprecedented opportunity to help people experience the love of God.

The Church is the only network large enough to handle a disaster like this. Media attention has been focused on the thousands of people who have taken refuge in the Astrodome. But more than 150,000 other people are being cared for by churches. There is amazing organization at the local church level. The Purpose Driven network is working.

It’s time for the church to shine. Disaster presents Christians with unprecedented opportunities to mobilize the Church and become the hands and feet of Christ. We need to become audio-visual Christians – not just talking about it, but doing it.

I believe that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina God has given us an opportunity for what could be the Church’s finest hour. God specializes in bringing good out of bad. He loves to take the broken things in our lives and turn them into something really meaningful. He loves to take our greatest hurt and turn it into our greatest opportunity for ministry. The wonderful truth of the Gospel is that, even in the bad things of the world, God is able to make something good.

Hurricane Katrina was the greatest natural disaster in the history of America. More people have died because of this than died from any natural disaster in American history. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost literally everything they own. More than 1 million people are without a home. And the storm caused more than $100 billion in damage.

How does God bring good out of that?

In every crisis, there is an opportunity for God to show his love. He shows his love by working through his people. A few days ago, when I was at the Astrodome where 20,000 people were lying on cots because they don’t have anywhere else to go, I saw hundreds of volunteers. I saw God everywhere – working in the hands and hearts of people.

Do you see what God is doing? Do you realize the opportunity God has given us?

God is using the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to give the Church an opportunity to be the Church. He is bringing displaced people into our communities – people who are homeless and need help and love and care and concern. Their lives have been shaken and they are asking the most important questions of life: Who is my family? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is church? People are more open to Christ when they are in a tough time than at any other point in their lives.

Jesus told a parable about seed being sown on four kinds of soil. Those four kinds of soil represent four attitudes toward Christ. One of them was hard soil. What turns hard soil into soft soil? Rain. A storm!

In the next 90 days, because of the transition people are going through, more people in this nation are going to be open to talking about spiritual matters – about the meaning and purpose of life, about God’s love and forgiveness – than at any other time.

These people need something strong and lasting that will give them security and stability. The only way to have security and stability is to put your trust in something that can’t be taken away from you. Everything in this world can be taken away from you: jobs, money, loved ones, health, beauty. The only thing that cannot be taken away is your relationship to Jesus Christ. That is what we need to be sharing with the people who have been displaced by this storm.

Because there are so many displaced people, we have to figure out a way to do something that has never been done before in America. By bringing people to our communities who are under stress and in transition who need to experience the love of God, he is giving us a unique opportunity to be what God intended the Church to be.

It is especially critical that churches everywhere get involved in ministering to families affected by Hurricane Katrina. In about four weeks, most people are going to start forgetting about this crisis. Short-term charities and relief organizations will be gone. There’s only one thing that lasts forever and keeps standing in a community, and that’s the Church. Long after all these others are gone, the Church is still going to be there. We should become the distribution centers, not just caring for the spiritual part of people, but for the physical and emotional as well.

This is a test for our churches. We have been given an incredible responsibility and blessing, and God wants to use us in ways we never thought. Will we respond? Will we do anything about it?

We must be churches that don’t just talk about God’s love, but show it in action. We must treat people the way Jesus treated them, because Jesus said that on Judgment Day, one of the things we are going to be judged for is how we treated other people.

He said: “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick and in prison, and you visited me.” The one thing we are going to be judged on is how we cared about people on the margins of society. This is our command, our commitment, and our challenge – to figure out the ways that the church can be the church.

I challenge you to think in a whole new way, to set an example, to develop whole new paradigms, to become the Church of the 21st century, for the global glory of God.

Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath could be the Church’s finest hour. We have been given an opportunity to love people the way Jesus loved them. Will you join us in the amazing work of grace God is doing? Will you take advantage of the opportunity God has given your church to bring hope to desperate souls?

This article originally appeared in Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free, email newsletter available from pastors.com. Used by permission.

The Ministry ToolBox is for ANYONE serving Jesus Christ. For a free subscription, you can sign up at www.pastors.com.


Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. Rick is also author The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church, and founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for those in ministry. You may reprint this article in your publication with the following attribution: From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry, www.pastors.com.

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