Lessons in Waiting

Written by Glenn Maddox. Posted 12/8/23.

One of the most surprising things about Disaster Response–a ministry known for quick responses in the face of crisis–is how often the best thing we can do is wait. In the days after a disaster happens, when the story dominates the news, human nature compels us to respond. Disaster response groups of all types swarm the community and get to work: preparing meals, cleaning homes, and supporting the official response. But as many communities learn, while most are very well-intentioned, not all help is actually helpful. Other groups that rush in without coordinating with emergency management may interfere with those official efforts, can be insensitive to the needs of the very people they’re trying to help, and often are gone within a few weeks—leaving the community feeling frustrated and alone as the long work of rebuilding continues. If the community isn’t ready to receive the support, then offering no help can be better than offering the wrong help. 

When the wildfires struck Maui four months ago, we felt the desire to do something. The donations came in, and people—seeing groups on the news responding right away—wondered when Virginia volunteers might go. Through a BGAV church in Hawaii, Ma Ke Alo O, we were able to hear stories directly from the community, to support their response to displaced families, and to honor the most important request they made: to wait. As we have heard stories over the last few months—stories of untrained volunteers going to help without really knowing how to, stories of a community that already mistrusts outsiders being inundated with outsiders who weren’t sensitive to the survivors’ needs, and stories of people already feeling forgotten as the news cycle has moved on—the willingness to trust our partner there has paid off. Eun Strawser, pastor of Ma Ke Alo O, has shared that “The art of waiting is probably one of the biggest marks of maturity, and knowing how to wait—asking questions, praying, observing a culture before stepping in—has been the bridge for building trust, especially with a local indigenous culture that is often suspicious of the church and outsiders. Even our indigenous team members have highlighted the patience exhibited, and it has profoundly helped to increase trust.” In this case, NOT going in, because the survivors weren’t ready to have people they didn’t know invade their private grief, has been the best way to minister to them. Respecting their wishes has laid the groundwork for the long-term response that we can still be part of.  

During Advent, a season of waiting, we have another good reminder of the power of waiting rather than charging ahead. Much of the joy of the season comes from waiting—the anticipation of the gift of God’s son. That time of waiting makes the gift itself even more precious. During this season of Advent, as you prepare for everything the Christmas holiday means for you, your family, and your church, take a moment to pray for the ongoing response in Maui and our collective part in it. We continue to wait, in partnership with those who are serving there, knowing that when they are ready for us to be more directly involved, we will be there. Through countless disasters that have led to long-term responses, we know that it is better to wait a few weeks and then respond for a year or more than it is to respond right away and be gone in a few weeks. As we continue to trust our partners in Hawaii to direct their own response, we will support them as they serve their recovering community. Pray that especially during this Advent and Christmas season we can offer them: 

Hope that comes from knowing that they have a partner who will wait as long as needed and help as requested. 

Peace that comes from knowing that as survivors, they are in the driver’s seat throughout the response. 

Joy that comes from knowing they have a partner who is invested in a relationship and not just a project to complete. 

Love that comes from commitment to being together for the long haul and invested in what they need far more than in what we want.