The conflict in Israel and Gaza weighs heavy on our minds and hearts. We are grieved by the loss of life and by the dire humanitarian situation. Drawing from her 20 years of global development experience, Lanre Williams-Ayedun of World Relief shares insight into the complex nature of providing aid in conflict zones.

In Today’s Conversation hosted by NAE President Walter Kim, Lanre describes how the life and ministry of Christ offers a foundation for humanitarian work and helps sustain energy and vision in the most difficult places.

Walter and Lanre also discuss:

  • What considerations aid organizations make when going into conflict zones;
  • How humanitarian groups practically collaborate in moments of crisis;
  • What particular challenges arise when providing aid in places with political strife; and
  • How Christians can be praying for people affected by crises around the world.

Read a Portion of the Transcript

Walter: It’s also heartbreaking to see this humanitarian work unfold in the dire physical needs. Just the children who would be longing to have a biscuit to have the energy to make it through a day. I mean, that’s heartbreaking. And that must lead to all sorts of emotional and spiritual traumas. You had mentioned that that kind of flourishing includes a spiritual, physical, emotional, all these things. Is that a part of the humanitarian crisis response? Or does that come later — to deal with the ongoing emotional and spiritual, mental traumas?

Lanre: I’ll answer that question on several levels. I think that it depends. For example, in Ukraine, when the war first broke out, we were immediately looking for the helpers. I think it’s Mister Rogers that says, “Look for the helpers.” We were immediately looking for the helpers, and we found that the first people that were mounting a response kind of homegrown were pastors.

These were people that were sending their congregations out, and they themselves were returning to the middle of the conflict to try to see how they could support. And these are not humanitarians in the kind of classical definition, right? These were pastors that were just trying to do good, but we started to come alongside them and say, “This is the way that you could set up a shelter for people that are transiting through your community. This is the way that you could set up a warehouse to do food, distribution or blanket distribution.” We were coming alongside them to provide that kind of technical support that we have the skills to do.

But they were also providing the psychosocial kind of mental health support that they were trained to do. And so, as people were coming through these shelters, people would stay for 3 or 4 days, as they were trying to figure out kind of how to get out of the most affected communities, get to the border, cross country, etc., and we were coming alongside to provide that technical assistance for tangible needs and freeing up the pastors to be able to sit with someone and to be able to hold someone’s hand and to do art with the children to allow them to express themselves. And so, where possible, we do try to take a look at the psychological toll that living through a crisis can create, and particularly in enabling pastors and church community to come alongside and provide that support.

Obviously, we’re also looking at how to support the supporters. And so how do we provide mental health care for our staff and for the folks that we provide? At World Relief, we’ve really taken that on and invested in having counselors that are available to our team. We do trauma check-ins with folks, stress check-ins so that even our team has resources that are available to them to be able to process the things that they are seeing. Because like you said, it’s difficult, and dealing with this.

And I think in our current environment, where we see crisis after crisis and complicated types of crisis, you know, something that starts out as a political conflict becomes a livelihood conflict becomes a health disaster. In Sudan, for example, on top of the war, there’s currently a cholera outbreak, which is a health disaster. And so you have all of these things that compound. It can be very difficult to kind of keep hope alive and to keep moving in the space, and so acknowledging the mental health burden that people are facing and trying to equip pastors, counselors that exist in those communities to support and also bringing in external support for those services.

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Relevant Resources

  • Support World Relief‘s efforts to provide humanitarian aid in conflict areas.
  • Download “Loving the Least of These,” a report on how climate change increases natural disasters and conflict from the NAE, World Relief and and the Evangelical Environmental Network.
  • Listen to our podcast with David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, on How Conflict Impacts Food Supply.

Today’s Conversation is brought to you by Care Net.