To be honest, my tendency is to be bit skeptical when I think of churches banding together to help those who are recovering from a disaster. If we are not careful success will be redefined by how many people are fed, lots are cleared, children are ministered to, etc. rather than implementing a strategy to reach a community with the gospel. Silently the evangelistic reports will pushed to the back of the pile. We will be giving out bread, but forgetting to mention that it is in Jesus’ name.
If we are not careful we will forget the true mission of God to rescue and redeem man from sin, not just from the current disaster.
We will forget that incarnation is about a holy God living among a sinful people for the purpose to rescue and redeem them from sin. While we may mimic the incarnation by having middle class people live in impoverished communities to deliver them from poverty. We are just people reaching other people through the grace and providence of God.
I’m not saying that we should not help the displaced, but that we should be diligent in how we do it, because I also know that not every work done in Jesus name is actually from Jesus (Matthew 7:21-27). It behooves us to follow Jesus’ model and listen to his words.
It is not enough to simply recall bible stories we were taught and say, “Jesus always met the physical need before the spiritual.” That’s simply not the case. Sometimes he forgave sin first (Mark 2:5), sometimes he asked if people believed that he was able to heal first (Matthew 9:27-31), and countless times he was approached by people who already believed he had the power to heal. The reality is that according to the biblical record, Jesus did not indiscriminately meet physical needs then preach the kingdom, indeed he was preaching the kingdom and in the process he met physical needs (in my opinion as authentication of his message). The gospels are clear that Jesus was concerned with the spiritual above the physical (Luke 12:4-5). Why else would he knowingly call his followers into physical suffering for the sake of the proclamation of the kingdom (Matthew 10:38-39, Acts 9:16)?
Then there are the times that he did not heal or perform signs because people would not believe (Matthew 13:58). There was also a time that he challenged his hearers to see past the signs to see that they were pointing to the power and provision of God (John 6:26-33). There certainly was not an apology for the gospel of Jesus part in the midst of doing good works like healing people. The signs and wonders that we often point to as Jesus meeting physical needs were accompaniment to the proclamation of the kingdom, not the other way around.
The purpose of disaster relief should be modeled off the life and message of Jesus which is to, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This requires some discrimination in determining what kind of works we will be a part of and how we will use resources to meet needs while we are proclaiming the gospel. It is important that we follow Jesus in performing our good works before men and do them in such a way that causes them to give glory to our father in heaven.
The gospel must not only be present, but the very motivation of our efforts in disaster relief.