This Could be the Church’s
-- 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
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
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
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
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
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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