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HN Issue 18 | Relational Relief: An unconventional approach to crisis response

WRITTEN BY SOOHWAN PARK

A need for relief aid is always an opportunity for so much more.


When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan in March 2011, killing over 15,000 people and displacing thousands more, we all – the international Church and non-governmental organization (NGO) community - responded quickly in the form of food, water, and shelter. Japan is a rich country, and by working together, basic needs were met quickly.

Residents, however, continued returning to the makeshift warehouses stacked with canned goods even after they had what they needed. They didn’t come for food or water; they needed personal connection.

Japanese church members saw the emotional needs of disaster victims and volunteered at drop-in centres. The need for a listening ear was unmistakable as the centres became busy places. Elderly folks could get a cup of tea, children could play, and anyone could sit and share their story with volunteers.

Soon, the volume of people seeking emotional relief from the centres forced a request for help. Food for the Hungry (FH) quickly stepped up to provide basic training, equipping people to engage within the Japanese Buddhist culture. They pulled in other experts partnering with FH Japan, Friends with the Voiceless, Disciplining Nations Alliance, and Regent College in Vancouver, BC to co-sponsor a program to look at how the Christian community could intentionally be an effective first-responder in future crises.

Traditionally following a disaster, physical relief is prioritized. Being attuned and responsive to emotional and spiritual needs has been shown to be equally critical. As in most of FH’s programs, a holistic approach and relationships are key factors in making them “successful”. This methodology encouraged FH, Regent College, and several Japanese churches to re-examine the role of Christians in disaster relief. When one expands their response beyond traditional, physical aid and addresses deeper wounds facing survivors, true relief is experienced. Rebuilding sustainable, healed communities takes time and investment.

Two years after the earthquake, former FH Canada President, Ben Hoogendoorn, visited Japan. He found the Christian community there still making positive waves. After witnessing the drop-in centres’ relational, Christ-centred approach in practice, Ben remarked, “I must say it was quite evident that lives were being impacted and a number of people who had been very suspicious of Christianity gave their hearts to Christ.”

The co-sponsored program, Relational Relief, has focused on incorporating a relational aspect into a fast-moving relief situation. While this approach is still being developed and programmatically integrated, its application is being examined by a number of interested organizations.

Soohwan Park’s passion to help others led her first to work among Dalits and Muslim poor in urbanslums of Bangladesh, then to start a holistic ministry training network among urban churches in Korea. Recently Soohwan has facilitated trainings with Food for the Hungry in Thailand and Japan.

VOLUNTEER PLAYS WITH CHILDREN IN CHILD SAFE SPACE


PROUD VOLUNTEERS WITH FH IN JAPAN

CHILD SAFE SPACE

CHILDREN POSE IN FRONT OF DISASTER ZONE



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Food for the Hungry: HN Issue 18 | Relational Relief: An unconventional approach to crisis response
HN Issue 18 | Relational Relief: An unconventional approach to crisis response
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