The impact of a natural disaster varies from person to person in a group, family or congregation. There are many variables that can paralyze leaders and keep them from facilitating a shared conversation about communal pain – just when the community needs it most. Courageous leaders will stop regular programing or practices to pay attention to current events in order to deepen the faith, trust, and overall health of the community. People need space to reflect and notice how God is with them during a disaster.
This resource is a guide to building resiliency following Hurricane Harvey that could easily be modified for other natural disasters. Please feel free to use this and share this to create a safe space for people to talk about their feelings.
There are five parts to this one-hour session.
Part I. Share your feelings: Begin by creating a brave space, inviting people to share their feelings as they are ready. Remind people that they can reveal as much or as little about their feelings as they choose. Invite people to opt out if that is their brave response to the invitation. Feelings will be shared first by inviting people to walk to the part of the room that most reflects their perspective.
Set Up: Designate the four corners of the room as A, B, C, and D. People will gather in the corner that corresponds to their answer to each question below. After the question is read, people can move to the place that most reflects how they are feeling. As noted above, people may opt out of moving and stay in the middle.
Share your feelings (Activity): Invite people to walk to the corner of the room designated for their response. This should be done without a lot of talking. The leader may make a few observations about where people are or are not standing in relationship to the statement as long as it does not shame or blame anyone. For example, after the first question, if no one in the room is standing in the “D” corner, the leader might offer a prayer for the families and friends of those who have died during the storm, even if they are not in the room.
- My personal loss due to Hurricane Harvey is:
A.Friends or family had flooding or other impact from the storm.
B. I had some flooding or other impact from the storm at my home.
C. I lost my home or am still waiting to hear about my home.
D. People I care about or know have had a death related to this storm.
- My personal experience with other natural disasters:
A. This is my first experience.
B. I have been through several hurricanes or other natural disasters.
C. I have worked on recovery teams, heard stories, and felt the impact of disaster many times.
D. I have been flooded, lost my home or had a death in my family in the past due to a natural disaster.
- In the past week, I have:
A. been able to move into a normal routine.
B. felt unable to concentrate, felt moved to tears or generally been overwhelmed.
C. been in a deep fog, unable to make decisions or carry out daily activities much at all.
D. been paralyzed by my feelings.
Part II. Write: Following the sharing above, give each person a piece of paper. Invite them to take two minutes to reflect on their feelings. Encourage them to journal for 15 minutes a day for four days. This is a proven method for helping people build resilience. Write anything that comes to mind.
Part III. Small Group Conversation: Invite people to get into small groups of 2 or 3 people to share their answers to the questions below.
- What surfaced for you in the sharing exercise?
- What bothered you?
- What did you value most?
- What do you need?
Debrief: Invite a few people to share their feelings with the whole group, if they are ready.
Follow this activity with a short debrief and definitions of these words. Keep in mind there are much fuller descriptions of each response to a disaster. These are only briefly named here.
- Acute Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome: Characterized by the development of severe anxiety, dissociation, and other symptoms that occur within one month after exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome: Ongoing (chronic) or even short-term (acute) symptoms that interfere with relationships or work following a traumatic event.
- Secondary Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome: A set of symptoms that mimic post-traumatic stress disorder, but is acquired through exposure to persons suffering the effects of trauma.
- Survivor Guilt: Symptoms that occur when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving or avoiding a traumatic event when others did not.
- Compassion Fatigue: Caring too much can hurt when caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care. Destructive behaviors, apathy, isolation or bottled up emotions can occur.
- Children: As children have fewer coping skills and less life-experience, they can be extremely vulnerable or show remarkable resilience. Special care should be given to children experiencing loss.
Part IV. Adapt: The practice of adaptive leadership requires time moving away from the action to observe, interpret, and create helpful interventions. A time of disaster allows for many adaptive moments on any given day as recovery begins. Adaptive leadership means experimenting with new ideas, new solutions to existing problems, and returning to the balcony to observe, interpret, and intervene over and over.
Invite the group to talk as a whole about the adaptive leadership they have experienced during or since the disaster. Note the creative innovative thinking, repurposing of resources, and new ways of thinking that have emerged.
Wonder with the group:
- What part of these adaptive practices do we want to make normal as we move into a new way of life following the disaster?
- What do we want to let go of?
Part V: Close with scripture reading and prayer:
Read and reflect on this scripture from Isaiah 43:1-2:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Ask: Are there other scripture passages or Bible stories that you find sustaining during this time?
Pray together, remembering that God is always with us.
PPT Presentation to accompany the Gathering