Since the 80s and 90s, when Afghans and then Kurds fled conflicts, OM teams have engaged in meaningful ways to meet the needs of people impacted by war, flooding and other disasters. When communities are in a crisis, whether man-made or natural, an increased number of people become vulnerable. Particularly, those with disabilities, already living in poverty or marginalised by their own societies, need an intentional and active helping hand.
Disaster response work must always be done unbiasedly; this includes assessing who needs help, managing distributions of goods to those affected regardless of race, creed or nationality, and the aid not being distributed to further a particular political or religious standpoint*. In short, relief work is not a means to an end to share the gospel. However, it can be a time when people who are hurting ask big questions and when conversations with those around them — both with others who are impacted and those who have come to help — turn in the direction of faith.
In the initial hours after disaster strikes, OM confirms the safety of their workers and partners in the affected area before assessing how best to help by listening to local communities and asking what is needed. OM team members and partners then work to address the needs, often in partnership with other entities like the government, like-minded organisations, the local church and the global OM network. Sometimes, the needs of those people impacted change within a few days from essentials like food, temporary shelter and non-food items to longer-term necessities like housing, access to resources and psychosocial support to make sense of the trauma experienced.
In 2023, OM teams and partners served in a disaster response capacity in Bangladesh, Morocco, Myanmar, Pakistan, Poland, Syria, Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine and several other countries. Team members have unconditionally provided shelter and aid to those in need and comforted those who may have sometimes felt forgotten by others. Amid horrible suffering and devastating loss, Jesus followers practically served and helped others, even when they themselves were impacted. It was often in the shared suffering that Jesus followers could speak about what God was doing in their own hearts.
Almost two years after President Putin of Russia ordered the invasion of Ukraine, the OM team in Poland continues to reach out to those who have left, or are still leaving, Ukraine. Around 460 people, mostly Ukrainians but other refugees as well, receive care and love every week in two different ministry locations. There are places where Ukrainians are invited to serve if they want and are empowered to live out their faith.
In several places across Europe, small groups of Jesus followers from a Muslim background meet together. Having fled war and conflict or economic hardship, many refugees have been cared for by an OM team or other Christians somewhere along their journey. These encounters encourage people to be open when believers invite them to hear about Jesus later on. Some join Discovery Bible Studies and learn more about Christ, while others decide to follow Jesus.
In South Asia, it is not uncommon for questions to arise about why Christians help majority-faith communities. As food packs are distributed by OM workers, community leaders and others ask the question, providing an opportunity to share about God’s love for everyone.
Media often dictates what crises around the world people are aware of and, therefore, what relief projects get funded. One of OM’s strengths is that we have OM workers or partners on the ground in over 147 countries. Our teams engage in relief work where they are already living or where established partnerships are already in place. This means that at the centre of our disaster response work is the conviction that we are invested for the long term, not just when the media draws attention, not only in the initial rush and not because we have ulterior motives. We serve because Christ first loved us and because His command is to love and care for those around us.
*taken from “The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief”