When I received news of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal on the morning of April 25, I wanted to board a plane and go to serve a local church I have come to love. My heart breaks for my brothers, sisters, and friends in Nepal who are experiencing so much pain and loss.
As director of a non-profit ministry that has been working in Nepal for the past few years, many people have asked me, “What can we do to help?” That has been a difficult question to answer.
We should, however, look beyond the simple answer of giving finances to relief organizations on the ground to only meet immediate needs. Let me be clear: Nepal needs relief. But is there a way we can pray, give, and work to do more than meet the needs of hurting people? Can we also build into and reinforce the church on the ground in Nepal to meet those physical needs in their own communities while also serving as outposts of the eternal hope that only comes from faith in Jesus?
Only the Beginning
In When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert identify three principal ways we should engage others in times of need: relief, rehabilitation, and development.
Relief, as defined in their book, is “the urgent and temporary provision of temporary aid to reduce immediate suffering.” As I write this article, the death toll is climbing toward five figures, and tens of thousands need medical care. Food supplies are scarce, and for some their only hope is in relief agencies like Baptist Global Response and Samaritan’s Purse. Nepal is currently unable respond to this disaster alone and needs relief. But what happens once food sources are stabilized, clean water is available, the living are rescued, and the dead are recovered?
Here is where churches and relief agencies alike need to be wise. Just as it’s important to apply the right type of intervention, it is also important, at the proper time, to move them onto rehabilitation and development.
Tim Brister, executive director of the Haiti Collective, is no stranger to this challenge. In reference to the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Brister remarked, “There was a man-made disaster after the disaster of the earthquake, and that was due to what NGOs and government aid did.” The Haiti Collective is not a relief agency. Its mission is to bring lasting transformation to individuals and communities through the life-changing power of the gospel. Brister commented that even now, nearly five years after the earthquake, “The majority of Christian NGOs build their philosophy on the relief paradigm, which is never helpful long-term, but they do so because it is efficient.”
Nepal, like Haiti, is a poor country. It would be easy to continue to provide relief for the next 50 to 100 years. But that would likely be more harmful than helpful. As members of the global church, we need to give of what God has given us—yet when and how that money is given is equally important. At some point, relief has to stop and rehabilitation and development need to begin.
Seeing Past the Moment to the Mission
When the sensational stories coming out of Nepal subside, news agencies will start talking about the next disaster, political scandal, or celebrity wedding. Most Americans will lose their focus and move on to the next big thing. The church should not. Because our mission is to go into the world and make disciples for Christ, we have to look beyond the moment. The mission needs to remain foremost in our minds and guide our engagement.
Many who have gone out of their way to share the need for relief in Nepal will, in a few weeks, find another short-term project to undertake. And in some ways that is necessary, for there are many needs around the world. But we need a long view of mission as well. The challenge is to address the short-term needs of Nepal with the long-term mission of the church in mind, namely to see the 260 unreached people groups of Nepal repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
Commit to Nepal’s Greatest Need
Nepal's greatest need is not relief in the form of food, shelter, and water. Its greatest need is an empowered church faithfully doing the work to which Jesus called us. The church needs Bibles, discipleship and leadership training, and sound theological resources in their own language. It needs to be strengthened so that it can multiply leaders to multiply healthy churches.
As Nepal’s Christian population continues to climb at an exceptional rate, there is an ever-growing need for godly leaders who can disciple growing and godly men and women in healthy churches. Who better to offer a cup of water or a caring embrace in the midst of disaster than a neighbor? The church in Nepal is the best witness to the hope we have in Christ to the people of Nepal.
By all means, let us give generously out of the resources with which God has blessed us. But let us also look beyond short-term relief engagement to long-term Great Commission involvement. Seek to build partnerships with organizations on the ground that are committed to equipping Nepalis to reach Nepalis.
The church in the world needs to invest into the church in Nepal. We must not only address the physical needs but also cheer on and support the work of Christ in building his church to bring relief to the deeper spiritual brokenness of the people in Nepal. We can help multiply leaders to multiply healthy churches. That should be, in the eyes of the church, what Nepal needs most.