How to Train Disaster Volunteers in Your Church

This article was originally published in Church Law & Tax on July 21, 2017.

Five steps for building and preparing a disaster ministry team.

Having a disaster ministry is the best way your church can prepare for future events and care for those impacted by disasters in your community. I have previously written about how to start a disaster ministry at your church, but setting up the ministry is just the beginning: you need to train volunteers to keep the ministry running and be ready to assist when disaster hits.

Below are some key principles to keep in mind as you build a volunteer disaster ministry and prepare volunteers to serve in moments of crisis that are so important to demonstrating God’s love for the most vulnerable.

Communicate the Vision

The process of volunteer development begins before you ever start recruiting. Having a robust theology of disasters—understanding why disaster response and survivor care matters to God and to your church—and communicating it clearly to your church is the foundation of all you will do in this ministry. Successful volunteers will understand why this ministry is important and how it connects to their faith. Volunteers need a sense of purpose and ownership to remain motivated in their service and to grow spiritually through it.

Once the groundwork has been laid, find opportunities to keep communicating the vision on a regular basis. When disasters hit locally or appear in the news, connect them to the work you’re doing in your own disaster ministry. Once your ministry has a few disaster responses under its belt, invite responders and survivors to share their testimonies of how they saw God at work in the midst of catastrophe. These are great ways to help people understand the importance of this kind of ministry and demonstrate what your church is preparing for. By keeping your church and your volunteers excited and engaged, you’ll help keep the dust from collecting on your plan.

Build a Leadership Team

As you begin to build the volunteer ministry, identify a “champion”—someone to help others stay motivated in their commitment to a safety plan in the church. This person should have a strong commitment to disaster ministry and will be the point person for all your volunteers. They should be someone your church can count on: a self-starter, someone others respect, someone with strong leadership skills as well as a passion for serving others in times of crisis and a giftedness in that area. This person should be specifically recruited, approved, and empowered by senior leadership in your church.

Then you will want to assemble a team of 6-10 volunteers to form the disaster ministry team. This group will be in charge of assessing your church’s disaster risks and setting ministries in place to prepare for and respond to those risks. They should be representative of all the ministries and operations of your church. If your church is small, one way to achieve this could be to bring together a group of already-active leaders from across your existing ministries. Disasters impact every area of your church, and a diverse team will most effectively understand how your existing ministries can be used in this context. Additionally, you never know who will be impacted personally by a disaster, so a leadership team approach ensures that even if one or more leaders are directly affected, there will be others ready to lead.

Connect Gifts with Needs

Spend time as a leadership team developing the expectations you have for volunteers. What will their distinct roles be? How will they know what is expected of them—and if they have done well? Clarity on the front end helps get the right people in the right roles and offers them a path to success in those roles.

When people hear “disaster ministry,” they may assume they need to learn a whole new set of skills—or that because they aren’t an emergency response professional, they don’t have much to offer. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Just as one of the best ways to start a disaster ministry in your church is to take a look at what your church already does well and consider how you can pivot this ministry to a disaster context, the same is true for volunteers. Help them identify what they already know to be their ministry gifting and calling—what they already do well—and then think through how that can be adapted or used in a disaster situation. Do they have an interest in children’s ministry? Financial assistance? Facility management? Food preparation? Visiting with shut-ins? All of those interests and gifts can be used in disaster contexts, and they draw from ministries that probably already exist in your church and can easily be employed when disaster hits.

Additionally, it is helpful to seek out any “first responders” you have in your church: medically trained people like doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and law enforcement officials like police, firefighters, and EMS professionals. Their expertise can be instrumental in helping train others, and their skills will be vital in a disaster response situation.

Prepare the Heart

Preparing action plans and skills is important, but so is preparing the heart. Humility is one of the most important qualities a volunteer can bring to disaster ministry. Scripture is clear that humility is essential to service. Jesus instructs his disciples that “[a]nyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). He also preaches it publicly, saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11 - 12).

Humble helpers are able to listen well and accept their own limitations. They don’t assume they know the best way to help, but they are able to pay attention to what is going on in the situation and listen to the survivors, offering help that actually helps.

Practice, Practice, Practice

As with any new task, practice is important in figuring out what works and learning and mastering the required skills. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for a disaster to give volunteers the practice they need to be prepared in a real-life situation. Encourage your leadership team to volunteer with established response organizations (e.g., Samaritan’s Purse) or with ministries that serve the vulnerable in your community (e.g. homeless ministries) to learn the ropes and gain practical experience they can then bring to your ministry. Connect with local emergency management or CERT teams who can help you set up practice response drills for volunteers. Take advantage of the many regular webinars and online courses in disaster emergency management skills offered by FEMA. Offer first aid classes to gain basic emergency medical skills. Begin engaging and connecting with your community through service projects: these not only help volunteers practice skills, but they build relationships that may lead to more collaboration when a disaster hits.

Further Reading

For specific, technical tools and resources to build training and evaluation plans, FEMA has put together this helpful guide. The Humanitarian Disaster Institute also has a collection of tip sheets covering a range of skills and practices for volunteers. For more on building a disaster ministry and training volunteers, see the Disaster Ministry Handbook, which I co-wrote, or consider joining us next June at our 2018 Disaster Minister Conference.


Dr. Jamie D. Aten is a disaster psychologist and the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois. His latest books include the Disaster Ministry Handbook and Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma. You can follow Jamie on Twitter at @drjamieaten or visit his website

A Walking Disaster

This article was originally published in Christianity Today on May 26, 2017. 

Image: Illustration by Hugh Syme

Image: Illustration by Hugh Syme

How a hurricane helped me weather my battle with cancer.

As I emerged from the fog of anesthesia, I heard the surgeon informing my wife, Kelly, that our worst fear had improbably come true.

“Cancer!?” I interrupted, before falling back into unconsciousness. That happened six more times before I fully awoke.

Earlier in the week, tests had revealed a suspicious growth atop a nerve bundle in my pelvis, which explained the shooting leg pains I had been experiencing. Baffled about where the mass might have originated, I was scheduled for a colonoscopy. “Chances of cancer in someone your age and health are less than 1 percent,” the surgeon said just before performing the procedure.

Not long after, I found myself at a cancer center looking over an oncologist’s shoulder and examining my test results on his computer.

“It’s cancer,” he confirmed. He went on: The cancer was advanced, and the tumor in my colon had spread to create the mass in my pelvic region.

I cried as the shock started to wear off. The oncologist tried some small talk. “What is it you do for a living?” he asked. I told him I’m a college professor, and that I direct the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI), a Wheaton College research center dedicated to the study of faith and disasters.

“Looks like you’re in for your own personal disaster,” he said.

At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I had multiple surgeries to remove it. Altogether, I underwent chemotherapy for close to a year. For the first six months, my oncologist would only respond to my requests for a prognosis by telling me, “I can’t tell you that it’s going to be okay, Jamie. It’s too early to tell. But if there’s anyone you want to see or anything you want to do, now is the time.” This wasn’t how it was supposed to be; I was supposed to grow old and gray with my wife. I was supposed to watch my three young daughters grow up.

Cancer wasn’t my first disaster. In the summer of 2005, my family and I had moved to southern Mississippi just six days before Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast. We had no idea the storm was headed for us until the pastor of a church we were visiting alerted the congregation. I remember feeling helpless, unsure what course of action to take. We eventually decided to evacuate, not wanting our daughter’s first memories of her new home to be darkened by a massive storm.

When we returned, it looked like a war had been fought in our community. Six weeks after landfall, I began helping churches across Mississippi and Louisiana that had been affected by the costliest natural disaster in US history. My experiences there inspired me to dedicate my career to studying the role of faith and the church in disaster relief and humanitarian aid.

But my cancer was different. I had no opportunity to evacuate as I did before Katrina. This time, the storm was striking within: I was a walking disaster.

What I had studied about faith and resilience in mass disaster zones across the globe was suddenly playing out in my own life. My work had taught me about the importance of finding meaning, surrendering spiritually, and leaning on community in times of crisis. Now cancer made these lessons personal.

The Importance of the Search

One of the most critical and difficult tasks in disaster relief is the search process. A journalist recently told me about a small group of missionaries he interviewed who were trapped under their hotel after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Had it not been for the tireless efforts of hopeful search crews digging through the rubble against all odds, none of them would have survived. The search is vitally important whether it results in miracle or tragedy—we don’t go into it knowing what will happen.

The same is true of personal disasters. Cancer upended my world, from the most mundane details to threatening my dreams for the future. Those first weeks after the diagnosis were consumed by assessments, tests, and scans as the doctors searched to understand my cancer. I was haunted by “why” questions—and by what I might discover—as I searched for meaning in the aftermath.

While deployed with a relief agency after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a colleague of mine met a man whose roof had been blown away. This man surprised the relief team with his ability to find meaning in the situation: “Sometimes you have to lose the roof to see the stars,” he said.

In a recent study, my colleagues and I found that people who seek spiritual meaning amidst disaster experience lower rates of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. This type of meaning is not easily or immediately found, and in the initial throes of catastrophe it often escapes us. But there’s good news: Research has found that striving to make meaning out of suffering can yield positive benefits similar to actually finding answers—at least for a period of time. Over the long haul, studies suggest it’s better for our well-being to make meaning of our tragedies than to remain in a permanent state of quest.

A common rejoinder at this point: “That’s great, but I didn’t just lose my roof, I lost my whole house, and every attempt to find meaning has only brought trite answers.” That’s fair. I felt the same way. What’s important is that the process doesn’t end there.

In my case, after countless attempts to find answers, I realized no single answer was going to make everything okay. The comfort I eventually found did not come in the form of “right” answers, but in God himself. He promises to be with us even in the most terrifying of places and times (Ps. 46:1). We can’t mistake his goodness, which he promises us in this life (Ps. 27:13), for the absence of hard things. His goodness is not dependent on our circumstances but can be found in all things—like losing a roof and gaining the stars.

The Strength of Surrender

Survivors of the most horrific disasters discover that if they are going to make it through, they have to learn to give up control over what they can’t control. When we do this out of a place of faith, it’s called spiritual surrender. It helps us understand what we do and don’t have control over when faced with overwhelming challenges.

In a study I led after Hurricane Katrina, we found that people who reported higher levels of spiritual surrender viewed God more positively and as being more in control. This finding didn’t make sense to me at the time. It seemed too passive to be an effective response, and the word surrender sounded to me like something people did when they had stopped fighting or had given up hope.

But my perspective on spiritual surrender was forever altered one winter morning in the middle of my fight with cancer: I was taking the trash to the curb, the freezing air cutting like tiny razor blades across my hands and feet thanks to increased nerve sensitivity caused by chemotherapy. I prayed God would heal me.

I kept praying as I walked back into my home, questioning if God even heard me. Then I dropped to my knees at the foot of my bed. I stopped asking for healing, and instead I asked God to take care of my wife and children if I didn’t make it.

This was the hardest prayer of my life. For the first time, I truly experienced spiritual surrender. I finally understood. True spiritual surrender is far from passive—it is a willful act of obedience (Rom. 12:1). Spiritual surrender resigns us to what is and reconciles us to our loss.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but spiritual surrender allows us to experience the fullness of God as we face our situation head-on, releasing our tightly held lives to him. When we let go of our desires at the foot of the cross, we position ourselves to gain not necessarily what we want but what we really need—eternal hope (1 Thess. 4:13). This is what Søren Kierkegaard referred to as the “double movement” of faith. Letting go of your control will paradoxically place you in the hands of God, through whom all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).

The Vulnerability of Community

When Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, took the reins of the agency in 2009, he ushered in a “whole community” approach. This disaster response strategy recognizes the importance of engaging local communities alongside emergency management professionals.

When disaster strikes, we all need community—especially spiritual community. God created us for and called us into community that we might “carry each other’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). It is God’s graciousness that offers us this gift, and we can choose to not let the pain isolate us but to let it unite us.

My colleagues and I conducted a study after flooding hit South Carolina in 2015. Findings showed that positive spiritual support (i.e., assistance from one’s faith community) is an important predictor of individual disaster resilience among survivors. We also discovered that spiritual support promoted post-disaster religious well-being (i.e., positive perceptions of God) and perceived posttraumatic growth.

Shortly after I made my diagnosis public, Wheaton College president Philip Ryken stopped by my home to pray with me. I confessed that I didn’t like being the type of person who needed help. He replied, “We don’t like to admit it to ourselves, Jamie, but we are all the type of people who need help.”

My spiritual community deployed in full force for the better part of a year. They brought food, took care of my family, took me to appointments, mowed our lawn in the summer, plowed the driveway when winter came, sent cards, texted and called, engaged in sacred conversations, covered my classes when I was too weak to teach, and sat by my side as I received drip chemotherapy.

This care was also visible in the blue rubber bracelets my Wheaton colleagues and students began wearing. Each bracelet was inscribed with my name and the phrase, “Lord, hear our prayer.” This small gesture was a big reminder that I belonged to a loving spiritual community and was not alone. My wife and I also wore the bracelets, and our three young daughters wore theirs around their ankles. I would see these bracelets on wrists everywhere I went on campus, on people I barely knew and on complete strangers in the community. I even received a picture of refugee pastors wearing the bracelets in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, where HDI had assisted and done research.

A few weeks after completing my last chemotherapy treatment, tests showed I was in remission. I’ll never forget the joy my family and I experienced as we took off our blue bracelets.

But I still keep one in my nightstand, another in my office desk drawer, and one in the front pocket of my backpack. I do this as a reminder that God created each of us for community. Don’t try to go through a disaster alone.

The Recovery of Redemption

Finding your new normal in the wake of a life-altering personal disaster can feel like an impossible feat. For some people, life may never go back to how it was. But our latest research suggests cultivating fortitude may help.

The church has long taught fortitude as the virtue of adversity and as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Whereas one of the hallmarks of resilience is expediting recovery, fortitude places greater value on endurance and persevering through long-suffering.

We find an example of this in the people of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They survived genocide and war, only to have some of their homes destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in early 2002. The survivors responded with fortitude by returning to the region a month later, some using lava rock to rebuild their houses. They not only found beauty in the ashes—they found refuge.

I didn’t start to regain my pre-cancer cognitive and physical functioning until about nine months after hearing my oncologist say, “no evidence of disease.” Just as I started to come to grips with permanent nerve damage and an array of side effects caused by my treatments, another crisis struck. I needed surgery to address complications arising from my first series of surgeries. After three more weeks in the hospital, I was finally discharged. I felt like I was starting the recovery process all over again.

Fortitude is about pushing forward in the promise that God can work in our brokenness. It is about pursuing good in the face of fear and hardship, as expressed in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I am now in better health and have been in remission for more than three years, for which I am incredibly grateful. But I still occasionally struggle with how the many treatments have changed my body. Sometimes my anxiety spikes as I worry the cancer will come back. I continue to work through survivor guilt—three others in my college community have lost their battles with cancer since I began mine.

Each of these struggles has shown me that God will not abandon us, no matter how badly or how often we are knocked down (2 Cor. 4:8–9). These difficulties have also taught me that life’s disasters need not have the last word.

Be it in this life or the next, God promises to redeem our disasters.

I was getting ready for work one morning not long after finding out I was in remission. As I was standing in front of the mirror buttoning my shirt, my youngest daughter walked by my room. I saw her reflection as the then-four-year-old paused to survey the surgery scars on my chest and torso. I felt very self-conscious in that moment and worried about her seeing me this way. My daughter asked, in a tender voice, if I would have my scars in heaven. I paused.

“God will give Daddy a new body,” I said.

A smile started at the corner of her mouth and grew enormous as my words sank in.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, pumping her fist in the air like an athlete after a game-winning play. She happily skipped off.


Jamie D. Aten, PhD, is an endowed professor of psychology at Wheaton College and founder and executive director of the college’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute in Wheaton, Illinois. His latest books include the Disaster Ministry Handbook (InterVarsity Press) and Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma (American Psychological Association).

Observing Refugee Sunday When Your Church is Divided

This article was originally published in CareLeader on June 22, 2017.

Dr. Jamie D. Aten discusses three ways Scripture and scientific studies of humility can help your congregation navigate the refugee crisis.

Many congregations stand divided on how to respond to the refugee crisis as we approach World Refugee Sunday. I personally have felt this tension; I am pro-refugee, and yet I know some Christians who disagree with my stance of welcoming refugees into the United States. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, chances are you’ve witnessed similar divides in your congregation if you are reading this.

The World Evangelical Alliance and The Refugee Highway Partnership are encouraging churches to dedicate either June 18 or 25—the Sundays on either side of the United Nation’s World Refugee Day (June 20)—as a day to “demonstrate their common concern for the welfare and protection of the world’s forcibly displaced people.”

The complexities and tensions surrounding the refugee crisis continue to mount, which appears to have made it more difficult for pastors and churches to engage with the refugee crisis. The schism among Christians exists not only in the public square, but also in church pews all around the US. As a result, some pastors are struggling to help their congregations come together in civic discourse around the crisis for World Refugee Sunday.

Yet, a recent study led by Dr. Joshua Hook at the University of North Texas which I collaborated on found that humility is particularly helpful for engaging religious disagreements like the one at hand. In this article I share Scripture and scientific studies on humility that can help your congregation navigate the refugee crisis.1

Humbly accept limitations

Humility is contagious—pastors can help their congregation more humbly approach the refugee crisis with one another by modeling humility in their own walk. Acknowledging what you don’t know makes you more authentic, and it allows your congregation’s dialogue to be more real, too.

Humility requires that your church members cultivate a willingness to view themselves more truthfully. This includes owning their limitations and admitting when they don’t have an answer or aren’t sure of what they think (Prov. 18:1315). People tend to be overconfident about what they think they know.

Research has shown that people’s understanding and view of the world is limited by their own cultural worldview, background, and experiences. Humility ought to make people pause and question the confidence they’ve placed in their “rightness.”

Therefore, encourage your congregation to pause and reflect on the accuracy of what they think they know about current events surrounding the refugee crisis. The unprecedented surge in fake news has made it more challenging to navigate what is truthful. This means more people in your congregation are likely getting duped. Also be aware that some in your congregation may not realize they’ve let their political views overshadow their religious convictions and understanding of Scripture.

Humbly listen

Teach your church members to truly listen to one another—as well as to refugees and those who intercede on their behalf (e.g., World ReliefWorld VisionInternational Association for Refugees)—with humility. Even more so, urge them to listen for God’s prompting more, not less.

Humble listening is not an easy task in this age of immediate social media responses and hot takes. With a click of the mouse people are tempted to form, consolidate, and defend opinions in an instant.

More people are also getting news curated to their interests, which is likely to reinforce their biases and limit their openness to new ideas and alternative views. People tend not to open themselves up to new information that might change their opinion. Instead, they are quick to reject or rationalize any new fact or perspective that doesn’t fit the narrative they’ve already embraced. With all of these distractions it is easier than ever for congregation members to drown out God’s voice. This is not the way to bring about kingdom change (Prov. 18:2).

Remind your congregation that humble listening means beginning not with a position, but with a posture. Speaking louder than and over others rarely sways minds (or hearts). The more superior people try to position themselves, the more likely conversations will shut down (James 1:19).

Asking questions, recognizing imbalances of power, and seeking first to understand someone else’s position are a few other ways you can help your congregation learn to humbly listen.

Humbly love others

This is a time to focus on helping your congregation build and strengthen relationships between people within the congregation who may not see eye to eye, and to build relationships with the broader community. One way you can help your congregation engage with more humility relationally is by creating opportunities to serve refugees.

Serving others as a congregation nurtures the growth of humble relationships, which in turn reduces fallout when disagreements occur. Scientific findings suggest that humility helps strengthen relationships and reduces relational friction. According to Drs. Don Davis and Joshua Hook, the Social Bonds Hypothesis suggests: “Commitment promotes a sense of ‘we-ness.’… Viewing others as humble should facilitate greater commitment.”

Research has shown that helping others creates a shared sense of meaning and purpose. Serving others has also been found to help people cope with and reduce stress, according to several research studies. Not only has your congregation been called to love your neighbors, it turns out that doing so makes loving others with humility more probable.

The Bible beckons God’s people to use their time, talents, and treasure to help others (Lev. 19:1033–34Luke 10:25–37Acts 10:4 MSG). Findings from a recent study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology imply that humility might also make people more welcoming of religiously different individuals. The study suggests humility makes people less aggressive toward one another in situations where they felt their cherished beliefs have been challenged. This doesn’t mean that participants gave up their convictions, but rather that humility seemed to help people perspective shift, to see things from someone else’s point of view.

By acting as the hands and feet of Christ to refugees, your congregation is more likely to see refugees as their neighbors, as Christ commands (Luke 10:25–37 MSG), and they are less likely to be fearful of them.


Scripture reminds us that all people—including refugees and people we disagree with politically—are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and that we are to care as Christ cared (John 15:12). More than ever we need to recall the wisdom of Micah 6:8 on this coming World Refugee Sunday: “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” with our God. For it’s through the command to engage with humility that God often shows us a better way forward. Overall, we could all use a good dose of humility.


Editor’s note:

For more information on the trials faced by refugees, see these articles: Helping the Traumatized and How to Increase Your Concern for the Victims of Racism.


Dr. Jamie D. Aten is the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and is the Rech Endowed Chair of Psychology at Wheaton College in Illinois. His latest books include the Disaster Ministry Handbook and Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma. Follow Jamie on Twitter at @drjamieaten or at

Four Talks to Change How You Think about the Refugee Crisis

Jamie Aten and Laura Leonard

This piece was originally published in Psychology Today's To Heal and Carry On on June 20, 2017.

On World Refugee Day, the issue is more important than ever.

Today is United Nations World Refugee Day—established in 2001 to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees”—and there has never been a better time to draw attention to the importance of caring and advocating for this marginalized population.

More than 65 million people have been displaced from their homes, and the global refugee crisis touches issues of war, poverty, famine, economics, racereligiongenderpolitics, policy, and justice. When it comes to engaging these issues, listening to those with experience and expertise is essential. TED Talks offer powerful narratives from leading experts that are a great way to look beyond the news headlines and partisan politics to get to the core of the complex ideas shaping one of the biggest challenges in our world today.

Here are four of the best TED Talks for learning about and engaging the refugee crisis. A single talk can’t make anyone an expert, or provide a comprehensive solution, but each of the four talks on this list present personal, practical, and creative entry points for changing the way we think about this important subject.

Let’s help refugees thrive, not just survive,” Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming, Head of Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner at UN's High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), tells individual stories of refugees fighting for their lives and their livelihoods. To love refugees as our neighbors, we must consider beyond figuring out where to put them and work to create educational and careeropportunities that will help them thrive long-term and break the cycle of violence and war that leads to displacement. “We should think of refugee camps and communities as more than just temporary population centers where people languish waiting for the war to end,” she says. “Rather, as centers of excellence, where refugees can triumph over their trauma and train for the day that they can go home as agents of positive change and social transformation.”

Why the only future worth building includes everyone,” Pope Francis

While he doesn’t mention refugees specifically, this talk from the current Pope delivers a message that cuts to the heart of both the refugee crisis and the human condition: solidarity. “When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?” He draws a parallel between the parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of today’s society, quoting the words of Mother Teresa: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense."

Our refugee system is failing. Here’s how we can fix it,” Alexander Betts

In this talk, Betts, the director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, gives historical context for the origins of the international refugee response, breaks down why the refugee system as it currently stands is failing, and offers practical ideas to fix it. The vision, he believes, is in creating ways for refugees to contribute to their host countries or temporary homes. “Politicians frame the issue as a zero-sum issue, that if we benefit refugees, we're imposing costs on citizens,” he says. “We tend to have a collective assumption that refugees are an inevitable cost or burden to society. But they don't have to. They can contribute.”

What it’s like to be a parent in a war zone,” Aala El-Khani

When we talk about the staggering numbers of refugees, we are talking about mothers, fathers, and children. Aala El-Khani, a humanitarian psychologist who works as a consultant for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as well as a Research Associate at the University of Manchester at the Division of Psychology and Mental Health, demonstrates why the question of how to raise healthy children who will be able to live productive lives after the refugee camps is essential to the parents raising these children and to anyone seeking long-term solutions.


Dr. Jamie D. Aten is a disaster psychologist and the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois. His latest books include the Disaster Ministry Handbook and Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma. You can follow Jamie on Twitter at @drjamieaten or visit his website

Laura Leonard is communications specialist for the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Illinois.