Volunteer- Your Rights as a Volunteer

In this blog post we will talk about how you have three “rights” while preparing to serve in a disaster. You have these “rights” to ensure your safety and well-being, as well as the safety and well-being of those around you. Here are your “rights”: the “right” heart, the “right” attitude, and the “right” perspective. By using these “rights,” you position yourself to make maximum impact in the lives and community you are serving. Let’s take a look at these “rights” in more detail.

The Right Heart- The heart of Christ. Having the right heart going into a disaster response is very important. In Matthew 5, 6, 7, better known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke several times about physical action vs. heart action. He brought a new level of obedience to our relationship with God. You could say that He upped the ante. He brought we new to level to sin when He said it wasn’t just a matter of action, but a matter of the heart. How many times on the outside have we done the right thing while internally we were full of rebellion? Every aspect of our relationship with God is a matter of the heart, encompassing everything from sin to salvation. It is with the heart that one commits murder, and it is with the heart that one believes unto salvation. These actions are an outward representation to what is happening on the inside. So it stands to reason that our actions in disaster will be an outward representation of what is in our heart.

It is vitally important to understand your purpose for being a volunteer in disaster. It is not so you can receive anything for yourself, but rather what you can do for those who have lost so much. You can help them to receive love, hope, and healing in their lives. Our actions, although good, mean little if our heart is not aligned with the heart of God. Our main focus should always be on the people we are serving. I would rather have a good-hearted volunteer that makes mistakes than one that does everything right with the wrong heart.

It is also important to have a servant’s heart while working in a disaster area. The importance of a servant’s heart go way beyond what we could effectively cover in this post. Nothing says you’re self-serving better than doing things your way for your glory no matter what anybody else says.

The Right Attitude- Having and maintaining the right attitude in your response to disaster is important. Your attitude motivates your actions and reflects your heart. Your attitude covers more than how you interact with those you are working with and for. It also covers how you do the actual work. If you go in with the attitude that people will get what you have and that is it then you are showing people they are not really as important as the photo opp you are getting by being there. If you go in tired and worn out, your help is appreciated, but is it effective? If you go in aggravated and mad, your help is less appreciated and way less effective.

One common attitude issue in disasters is the “free work” attitude. Many volunteers come into a disaster with this attitude thinking that beggars cannot be choosers. It’s the wrong attitude. Most people in a disaster don’t have options outside of you and the team you are with. Many would rather not have a busload of strangers hanging out on their property or in their homes. It is only out of necessity that they need your help. With this in mind always work like you would want someone to work for you if you were paying them. Put yourself in the shoes of the homeowners. Would you be happy paying someone to do the job you just did? If so, success is yours. If not, its ok, just make some adjustments and go back at it again another day. All you can do is give it your absolute best; after all, that’s all we can really ask from anyone.

The Right Perspective- How do you eat an elephant? This is a question I like to ask volunteers as they get ready to go out into a disaster for the first time. The answer is simple, one bite at a time! The reason I ask this is to help put things into perspective. Our impact in the community may seem small, but in the end it matters. One thing we must always remember is that we all have a very important role to play in the recovery process. Many people come into a disaster with unrealistic expectations. They may expect to come in one day with a mess and leave a few days later with everything looking awesome and normal again. That simply will not happen. Always keep a realistic perspective on the situation, and remember, if we all work together we will accomplish a whole lot more than if we work it alone.

The best part of volunteering is the experience that you come home with. True life change comes when something happens that affects your perspective on life. We all have moments in our lives that can affect our perspective: the moment we are born again, the moment you get married, the moment you have a child. All these things should have a radical impact on your life, causing you to change your perspective. The disaster response experience has that same potential. By keeping these three “rights” in mind, you can have an experience that will forever change the lives of the people you serve and radically affect your perspective on life.