When you hear the words "critical incident" or "crisis response," what do you think about? Perhaps first responders at a major accident scene, anxious relatives watching the passenger list after a plane crash, or truckloads of food rolling into a community devastated by a natural disaster? A critical incident can be any of these things--or none of them. A critical incident can also be much more private: a quiet divorce following a painful discovery of infidelity; the death of a spouse or child; a cancer diagnosis; an ultrasound indicating that a much-awaited baby doesn't seem to be developing normally; a father dreading to tell his family he just lost his job; parents watching a child being taken from a courtroom following a "guilty" verdict; a child in the doctor's examination room following a hotline report of abuse.
It would be an unusual community or local church in which one or more members have not been touched by such an incident. Life happens; death happens; a crisis comes at the most unexpected and inconvenient of times; and it certainly doesn't seem fair. While some critical incidents are the result of bad choices--ours or someone else's--other times, there just doesn't seem to be any discernible reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What is a Christian to think and do? How should the church respond?
Neither Jesus nor the New Testament writers minced words about suffering, telling early Christians to expect it. The writer of Hebrews counts sufferers among the heroes of the Old Testament. The book of Job makes it clear that some suffering is part of the cosmic battle between good and evil. The Bible does not promise we will always understand why things happen; it does, however, encourage Christians to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15, KJV), and to come to the aid of those who are suffering (Matthew 25:31-44; Hebrews 13:3). In that spirit, we seek to provide resources to aid the Church in responding to critical needs, not only in their congregations but in their communities.
Check back often as new resources are reviewed and added; we also invite your participation in making this page useful by submitting suggested resources.
U.S. Missions responds to many types of crisis situations through the work of Chaplaincy Ministries. In addition to ministering to the spiritual needs of military personnel and veterans, chaplains work in hospitals, prisons, local police and fire departments, and many other places where caring concern is needed during a critical time. For more information or to find a chaplain near you, visit http://chaplaincy.ag.org/.
Chaplaincy Ministries also offers the 461 Response ministry, based on Psalm 46:1, equipping local churches to assist individuals and communities in crisis. In cooperation with local congregations and Assemblies of God district leadership, the 461 Response network connects churches with needs in several ways: Caring Communities (offering the use of church property and resources as a ministry hub during a crisis), Responding Communities (deploying trained church members to assist with direct response and relief), and Healing Communities (church members with federally-recognized training, providing ongoing spiritual and emotional care for people affected by critical incidents and trauma). Visit the 461 Response website for more information and to sign your church up as a provider or get training.
461 Response - Critical incident ministry coordinated by Chaplaincy Ministries. Get trained as a FEMA-approved response site, and register your church as a caring community, response community, or healing community.
Strength for Service - An Eagle Scout project inspired this update of a WWII devotional for soldiers, now available both for military and community responders. Additional church resources are available for planning a special service to honor these heroes and present the devotional as a gift.
Some communities are blessed to have chaplains serving their law enforcement, fire fighters, and other emergency personnel. If no chaplain is currently serving your community, there are still ways to help support these community servants. See our checklist, "Serve Your Civil Servants," and also check out the following ideas:
- Covered Law Enforcement: A support and networking group by and for Christian police officers. Find ways your church can be equipped to serve and support your local law enforcement community.
- Making the Match: Law Enforcement, the Faith Community, and the Value-Based Initiative: Special report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, on community partnerships to support law enforcement and work for better neighborhoods.
- Observe "Law Enforcement Appreciation Day" in your community - get information here.
Stephen Ministry - One-on-one caring ministry provided by specially-trained lay people in local congregations. Stephen Ministers walk alongside the suffering to provide a confidential listening ear, accountability, and prayer.
A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS can be devastating. Prepare to help by checking out HIV/AIDS Initiative - A ministry of Saddleback Church. Find resources for starting a support ministry, increasing compassionate awareness, removing stigma, and providing practical help for the HIV-positive and their families at www.hivandthechurch.com.
From Death to Life - Founded by Mary Johnson-Roy as a place of healing for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one to death by homicide. Mary shares the story of her reconciliation with her only son's killer, whom she learned to forgive and now considers a "spiritual son."
Children often suffer when a family experiences crisis. Many communities offer safe places for children to stay while families cope with job loss, medical emergencies, or other unexpected difficulties. These places are usually NOT affiliated with the foster care system, and families retain control of decisions affecting their children. Search "crisis nurseries" and your state name to find one in your area; one example is Isabel's House in Springfield, Missouri.
A traumatic accident or serious illness in one family member can affect the spiritual and emotional health of the entire family. One family shares the challenges, and how they have coped, in "My Child Has Cancer: One Family's Spiritual Journey."
From the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - Resources for coping with suicide loss, including guidance for schools impacted by a student suicide.
Friends of Bethany - Founded by friends and supporters of competitive surfer and shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton, this group offers encouragement to those experiencing a traumatic event. The Beautifully Flawed Retreat offers young women ages 14-24 who have experienced the loss of a limb the opportunity for fellowship with others who understand, in a positive and spiritually uplifting setting.
Hamilton's Academy of Grief and Loss - This Des Moines, Iowa, funeral home offers a complete program of assistance for those dealing with grief, including downloadable resources and material for school presentations.
Widows Link: A U.S. Missions ministry reaching out to widows in the midst of grief.
Article, "Why Does God Allow People to Suffer?" - Addresses some of the "whys" of the newly disabled or those enduring harsh physical or emotional pain.
From Vital magazine: "How to Deal with Loss" - Wrestling with how to make sense of loss and put suffering into an eternal context of hope.
Project Ignite Light - "Sharing Light in the Darkness of Child Abuse," this ministry reaches out to children affected by abuse, who are often removed from a traumatic situation at night, taken to a police station or hospital exam room where even the clothing they are wearing is kept as evidence. These young victims are given a bag with their very own blanket, flashlight, hygiene items, a book, and a brand-new pair of cozy, stylish pajamas. Get involved or find out how to start a program in your area.
A Terrible Thing Happened - An excellent book for children who have experienced any kind of grief or loss, or who have witnessed crime, abuse, or disaster. Gently walks children through their need to talk about the loss and why they are feeling the way they are. Includes an afterword of helpful information for caregivers.
Comfort Kits from Guideposts for Kids - A cuddly stuffed star, music CD, stickers, special name plaque, and other goodies help ease the stress for kids who find themselves in the hospital facing a serious illness.
(See our Adoption/Foster Care page for additional helpful resources for children.)
Mercy Chefs: A recent article in PE News highlights the ministry of U.S. Missionaries John and Rachel Stout as part of a team providing nourishing, comforting meals to victims and responders at disaster sites. The Stouts also train local churches to respond to community crisis through sharing meals.
Channing Bete Company publications - resource information for handling traumatic situations
Disaster response for persons with disabilities: A number of organizations offer special publications to assist persons with disabilities in preparing for emergencies. Get started by checking out the American Red Cross, www.disability.gov, and the National Organization on Disability's Emergency Preparedness Initiative.
The federal government website, www.ready.gov, offers free downloadable resources to assist your family or group in making a readiness plan for many types of emergencies, along with opportunities for volunteering during a disaster. The Department of Health and Human Services has also developed a resource system for disaster response, to facilitate connection and sharing among emergency personnel, medical facilities, and alert systems.
Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response from the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families - Resources for meeting the needs of children during a disaster. (Check your state government website for additional information specific to your area.)
From FEMA: "Helping Children Cope with Disaster"
From the Office of Public Health Emergency: "Cultural and Linguistic Competency in Disaster Preparedness and Response" - Fact sheets to assist responders and providers in working competently with a variety of cultural and language groups in the event of disaster.