Disaster Relief: An Inside Look


When you hear the term “disaster relief,” what image comes to mind?  Do you see some cavalier Indiana Jones figure swinging from vine to vine passing out life saving goods, and dramatically rescuing children from the clutches of death?

It’s easy to romanticize relief work until the task resembles an adventure movie, but the reality is much different. The men and women who respond to disasters engage in long, hard, tedious, and sometimes thankless work. Not every relief job involves swooping in to rescue a child on the verge of death. Hours of preparation, planning, and organization combine to make it possible to provide life saving care and support to people who are enduring a disaster. Staff keep working long after dramatic media coverage fades and the public forgets the cries for help. Through these days, weeks, and months of hard work, World Vision staff is always reminded of the need to derive their strength from the Lord.

“Disaster relief is meant to relieve the pain and suffering of someone who has suffered a disaster, natural or man made,” said says World Vision’s Audrey Black.  “It means to provide assistance and necessities to bring some type of normalcy to their life.”

Any responsibility that aids the survivors of a disaster falls into the category of disaster relief.  Some workers on the scene pull men, women, and children from the rubble. Some patch wounds. Others provide food and clean water.  Most do all of the above. Many others, like Audrey, work behind the scenes to make all this work on the ground possible.

When I first met Audrey, her contagious joy and goodwill struck me deeply. I felt cared for and loved even though we had just met. I noticed her dedication, her peace, and most of all, her faith.  She recently shared with me what disaster relief looked like for her in 2009 after the Haiti earthquake, and what kept her going.

“It’s a passion of love,” said Audrey of her own service. “It’s a way to show that Christ is truly a part of our life and we have a relationship with him.”

Audrey works as a supply coordinator for World Vision’s Dallas Storehouse, but after the earthquake in Haiti, she took her contagious joy and welcoming warmth to Miami. There, she worked for World Vision to organize relief efforts for the devastated Caribbean nation. She coordinated donations, prepared relief kits, and kept records of all the shipments. For Audrey, disaster relief meant working in a gigantic warehouse in Florida. She wasn’t pulling survivors out of the rubble or handing out food, but she was providing a crucial function necessary for World Vision to help people, and she was hundreds of miles away from Haiti.

“It was chaotic,” Audrey said.  Her day would start around 7am, and she’d organize donations and keep the books until 8 or 9 at night.  Audrey oversaw everything from hygiene kit preparation to toy deliveries for kids.

“Sometimes relief can come in the form of toys.”  Often, “the kids are completely forgotten.”

Does spending 12 hours in a dusty warehouse sound daunting? To many, long hours sifting through boxes of donations sounds unappealing. Without those long hours, however, the relief on the ground wouldn’t be possible.

“I absolutely loved it,” she says.

Disaster relief encompasses everything from receiving supplies to planning and distributing them on the ground. Relief requires determination and dedication in the face of tedium and exhaustion. Most of all, it requires joy from the Lord. Explains Audrey:

“It’s Him. It’s really Him.  It’s not me.  Christ renews my strength. Audrey doesn’t even matter.  It’s all about him.”