How to survive an earthquake/flood/fire – go to church?

Who knew? Your best way to survive this might be to go to church...

So once again cutting edge research shows that if the church will just be the church, she will be better positioned to respond to crisis than any other institution.  For the last two or three years I have been winding up my presentations with a call to the church toward Repentance (change our attitude toward God’s creation), Restoration (work to restore what has been damaged), and Preparation (be ready for more disasters to come).  A report from NPR this week reinforces the effectiveness of this kind of preparation.

You could start with a multiple choice question:  In the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami, which Indian villagers had a great chance of survival?

a)      Those who were rich.

b)      Those who were influential.

c)       Those who attended weddings and funerals.

And the answer, surprisingly, is …

c).  People who have lots of friends, who are socially connected to a community, have a greater likelihood of staying alive during, and of recovering after the event.  Daniel Aldrich of Purdue University has studied disaster response in New Orleans, India, Japan and elsewhere,  and has just published a paper, “Fixing Recovery: Social Capital in Post-Crisis Resilience”.

Highlights from the NPR story:

Aldrich’s findings show that ambulances and firetrucks and government aid are not the principal ways most people survive during — and recover after — a disaster. His data suggest that while official help is useful — in clearing the water and getting the power back on in a place such as New Orleans after Katrina, for example — government interventions cannot bring neighborhoods back, and most emergency responders take far too long to get to the scene of a disaster to save many lives. Rather, it is the personal ties among members of a community that determine survival during a disaster, and recovery in its aftermath….

The problem isn’t that experts are dumb. It’s that communities are not the sum of their roads, schools and malls. They are the sum of their relationships.

The Japanese government seems to get this. The government there actually funds block parties to bring communities together.

That might never happen in America, but Aldrich thinks each of us can do something on our own: Instead of practicing earthquake drills and building bunkers, we could reach out and make more friends among our co-workers and neighbors.

…”Really, at the end of the day, the people who will save you, and the people who will help you,” he added, “they’re usually neighbors.”

What does any of this have to do either with creation care or the church?

It has everything to do with creation care because our abuse of creation makes disasters more frequent and more deadly.  Take, for example, floods – driven both by paving our landscape (see The Price of Paving Paradise) and climate change.  Wildfires, caused by a combination of mismanagement of forest land (too many years without any fire at all) and climate change.  Oilspills – Alaska, Gulf of Mexico, Yellowstone river – you can kind of take your pick here.  Nuclear disaster in Japan – no, the earthquake wasn’t caused by humans, but the decision to put a plant on a major fault without adequate protections sure was.  The lesson?  As long as we persist in tearing apart the structure of our home, we can expect the beams to keep falling on us.

So where does the church fit in?  The church is not a building.  It’s not a collection of people attending a Sunday morning concert or lecture series.  No, at its most basic the church is a community of people who love and follow Jesus, and who, because of that, love and care for each other.  The church is what Daniel Aldrich is describing in his paper – a web of relationships.

A church that is being the church in this way has already given its people the gift of being prepared for the disaster that has not yet come.  A church that consciously prepares its people for that disaster is on its way to being the first-responder for its entire community.

[Read more on this in Our Father’s World.]