Empowering Children to Be “First-Responders”

After a barrage of natural disasters and heartbreaking headlines, Thanksgiving 2017 arrives. How can we help children navigate our currently chaotic world? What are some practical ways kids can respond with compassion and hope?

Hurricane Harvey

In September, Hurricane Harvey dumped trillions of gallons of water, devastating the Houston area. Our sister church in Houston called Pastor Chris in Colorado and asked, “Would your church like to send a short term team?” Before long, twelve eager servants of Jesus drove to Texas to remove drywall, clean up debris, and serve families. A second team headed down a week later.

The Houston church hosted 1,500 relief workers who helped clean out nearly 230 houses. They saw numerous people place their faith in Christ—and deeply impact many more who witnessed the church in action. The twenty-four folks from our Colorado church came back wide-eyed and full of hope—despite all the devastation. There is something beautiful about seeing the church be the church.

The Church Can Lead the Way

It might be tempting to shield kids from news of floodwaters devastating the south, Puerto Rico’s difficult recovery from Hurricane Maria, or the 5,000+ homes destroyed in California wine-country fires. Even teachers and parents sometimes battle for hope and understanding. How can we include children in that conversation?

As the Church responds to disasters with simple donations, mobilized help, and compassionate service, the world takes notice. Real needs are met. Jesus’ compassion becomes tangible. The Gospel is shared and shown.

5 Practical Ways to Empower Children

Here are five practical ways to include children in first-response activities and rebuilding efforts.

  1. Serve—Together

Though your kids won’t be replacing flood-zone drywall or entering burning buildings, don’t discount their role! Older children can join local outreach and service teams. Families with younger children can visit local emergency shelters, create encouragement cards, and assemble care packages. Children who participate in service experiences give and receive enriching, enduring, and priceless rewards.

  1. Pray—Together

Train children to pray and intercede during local, national, and international crises. Jesus was often “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36, 4:14; Mark 1:41). He never failed to convey heartfelt empathy and sympathy. Though disaster victims may be hundreds of miles away, prayer brings us close to God’s heart and close to those desperate survivors. Pray together as a family or small group, encouraging children to pray aloud. Prayer fosters a hopeful heart that expects God to move on behalf of His people.

  1. Donate Money, Food, and Clothing—Together

As a family, take offerings for specific causes or ministries you feel passionate about. Explain to your children how various organizations meet the needs of beleaguered people. Let kids choose ways to support them.

As a ministry, present emergency needs and select one or two institutions to sponsor. Organize clothing and food drives. Research local GoFundMe campaigns or partner with a like-minded local church in the affected area. Give generously!

  1. Host Displaced Families—Together

When disaster hits close to home, show Christ’s hospitality! The recent fires in Napa displaced thousands of families. Through your local church or even organizations such as AirBnB (https://www.airbnb.com/welcome/evacuees), offer your home to a displaced family. Process with your children what it might be like to lose your belongings in a fire or flood. Suggest practical ways to assist—playing with the guest’s children, making welcome cards, helping fold laundry, or baking cookies.

  1. Share Testimonies—Together

Our Houston relief team recounted this experience: They gutted the drywall and cleared all of the debris from a woman’s house. Afterward, she took out her wallet intending to show her appreciation. The service team refused payment. “We aren’t charging you, this is free. We are just the church helping out. But can we pray for you instead?” She nodded her assent. The woman was soon in tears, overcome with God’s expression of love through His people. She said, “I might come to church if this is what you guys are like!” The following week, that woman who had lost everything in the Harvey flood attended church for the first time in decades.

Testimonies stir hope! Find opportunities to share stories of how God is moving. This recharges everyone and helps children see how God uses their simple offerings of time, money, and service to bless people who face disaster.


Seek out family-friendly ways to serve in disaster relief. Give children tangible, hands-on opportunities to serve Christ together. The experiences do take time and effort, but they are richly rewarded. What we model now will produce a harvest of future “first responders” in the Church. They will see themselves as Jesus’ arms and legs—part of His compassionate response to serve a world in need.

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