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Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines as one of most powerful typhoons or hurricane recorded in history. As church leaders and members watch the events of the storm unfold, many are likely asking themselves how they can help.

In my academic research following disaster, I have discovered how your church can not only help, but help in ways that have been found to be truly effective without causing unintentional harm.

Keep Your Focus on the Survivors' Needs

I have a colleague who has done much in-depth research following large oil spills. He shared with me that after the Exxon Valdez, many of the local communities were overwhelmed by the support that was provided from all over the world.

Though most of the support was positive, some people sent goods that actually placed more burdens on the community. People sent literally tons of clothes. As a result, the communities had to sort the clothes, so they could distribute them appropriately. Up to this point this all sounds helpful. However, they actually had people send barrels and barrels of summer clothes and even swimsuits. (You could imagine how much good that did in the wintery climate off the Alaskan coast.)

In the end, these communities were actually stuck with a $200,000 bill just to get rid of the clothes they could not use. Survivors often have a wide range of needs, including physical, emotional, and spiritual. After a disaster, there is a need for a wide range of help and support.

We also need to take into account the actual amount of need. Sometimes we can give too much. A good rule of thumb is that aid happens where need meets resources. Also before giving, you should make sure you get good information from either your own contacts or legitimate ...

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How Churches Can Help Without Hurting After Super Typhoon Haiyan
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November 2013

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