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Instead of jumping a plane today and taking off to the disaster site, wait until volunteer opportunities have been identified. Also, if you are going to go and volunteer be prepared to be self-sufficient. Impacted communities must be allowed to focus resources on the needs of survivors and should not be tasked with focusing on meeting your needs, such as finding you shelter.

For those of you want to volunteer on site, remember it is okay to be patient. Impacted communities will need help for months or even years after a disaster. In fact, many disasters see a flood of help right after a disaster strikes, but then the help tends to taper off as we forget about those same communities in the months that follow when help is still sorely needed.

Consider waiting and being a part of the intermediate or long-term recovery process or possibly volunteering with an established aid organization.

Join Forces and Support Local or Established Church and Aid Organizations

Consider giving to local church organizations in the Philippines that are capable of handling donations and capable of empowering local churches, such as the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches or Philippine Relief and Development Services.

Affiliating with international aid organizations that have established relationships and resources (such as the Micah Network, Integral Alliance, World Relief, World Vision, and Samaritan's Purse) is another way you can ensure you will help rather than hurt.

Overall, our research has found that one of the most effective ways to help after a disaster is to make financial contributions to recognized aid organizations. Financial contributions make sure that the right assistance is available at the right time.

Needs on the ground also change rapidly and dollars can quickly be changed from a meal to supplies. I realize that we often like to give gifts and items. This is understandable. It makes us feel like we are more personally connected. We can sometimes even picture in our mind's eye someone getting the gift we have sent.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary school tragedy, people gave toys and teddy bears from all parts of the globe. Though those gifts helped a lot of families, they gifts eventually overwhelmed the community and they had to issue a statement, "Please stop sending gifts."

Financial contributions are much more flexible and allow those on the ground with the most knowledge of what is happening to apply to the rapidly changing needs occurring in real time.

Churches can be more effective in offering aid to communities in the Philippines affected by the recent disaster. The church is called to help in times of need. But sometimes our good intentions can cause unintentional harm. By following these guidelines, you and your church will be better prepared to help in a way that truly helps rather than harms.

Jamie D. Aten, Ph.D., is founder and co-director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College (Illinois). HDI is the first Christian academic disaster research center in the country. Dr. Aten's research on the psychology of religion and disasters was recently recognized with an award from the American Psychological Association.

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