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When tragedy strikes, we find comfort in serving others. Creative Commons courtesy

Photo public domain CC0 courtesy

As we search for hope, comfort, and answers, a story Jesus tells about serving others is a useful guide for United Methodists to reach out in love.

Photo illustration of prayer by the Rev. Harriet Bryan. Courtesy Gisela Merkuur,

Courtesy Gisela Merkuur,

The Rev. Harriet Bryan wrote a prayer in response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017.

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“You did it for me”: Serving others in times of tragedy


A Feature by Joe Iovino*

In the midst of tragic loss by violence or disaster, United Methodists long to participate in God’s work in the world. We pray, worship, and offer well wishes. We also serve, lend a hand, and meet a need.

Through our service, we often find healing for ourselves as the Holy Spirit moves in and through us.

A great guide for finding ways to minister to our neighbors is Jesus’s story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus tells the helpers that they served him by serving those in the greatest need.

I was hungry

“I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat,” Jesus tells us.

Provide a meal. Many churches have ministries that provide meals for those who are recovering from surgery, mourning the loss of a loved one, or otherwise in need of a hot meal. You can also do something similar on your own. Take a meal to one who is hurting. Provide food to those living on the street. Buy the meal for the person behind you in the drive-thru line.

United Methodist Committee on Relief coordinates ways we help offer food, water, and other supplies to those in need.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) coordinates ways to give food, water, and other supplies to those in need. File photo by Bridget Sloane, United Methodist Communications.

Give to the local foodbank. Hungry people are everywhere, even in places you might least suspect. Foodbanks do wonderful work providing meals for men, women, and children who cannot afford to feed themselves. Donate food. Volunteer. Support Heifer International or another organization that helps feed people around the world. Help feed those who are hungry.

I was thirsty

“I was thirsty,” Jesus tells the servants, “and you gave me a drink.”

Donate water. Water is a critical supply in times of disaster. We need clean, safe water to survive. Natural disasters like floods and mudslides often contaminate aquafers, limiting people’s supply of water. Donations of water to a local disaster relief center, to first responders, or to your church mission team heading off to do cleanup, are important.

Give to well ministries. Tragedy reminds us that some live without clean, safe water every day. Donate to ministries that help provide wells like the UMCOR WASH program.

Conserve. The water you save helps someone else have enough. Learn more here.

I was a stranger

Jesus continues, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Embrace love. In our daily living, we can see others as a bother. The difficult people at work. The teacher that doesn’t understand. The other drivers clogging the roads on the way to work. We can make a huge difference in the lives of many, and ourselves, by deciding to lead with love.

Spend time with kids and youth. Volunteer to read at a nursery school. Get involved in the tutoring program at an elementary school. Intentionally listen to your children and their friends. Play with your grandchildren and their friends. Go to the high school football or basketball game in town. Support the young people in your community.

Care for the elderly. Find out how you can help at a nursing home. Ask your pastor about becoming a visitor to those in your church who no longer get out very often. Drive a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment or help them grocery shop.

Do no harm on social media. One of John Wesley’s General Rules for the Methodist societies was to do no harm. Today, we need to take care that our social media posts are loving, do not spread rumors, and do nothing to hurt others.

I was naked

“I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear,” Jesus praises.

Give money during tragedy. One of the tricky things during a tragedy is that the agencies don’t have the resources to sort through clothing donations. They much prefer monetary donations that help them buy the needed clothing. Support UMCOR and other agencies that meet these needs with cash donations.

Donate clothing to proper agencies. There are those who are always in need of clothes. Give to your local coat drive, shoe drive, clothing drive. The agencies asking for those donations are prepared to process them and use them to clothe those with nothing to wear.

Join a building project. To protect them from the elements, people need clothes and shelter. Join a local Habitat for Humanity build, a mission team, or another organization providing housing to the many who live out in the elements. Make a trip with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission to use your skills to help someone in need.

I was sick

“I was sick,” Jesus tells the surprised servants, “and you took care of me.”

United Methodists are always ready to respond to need.

United Methodist are always ready to use their talents and resources to help those in need. File photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

Give blood. The American Red Cross is always in need of blood donations to care for the sick and wounded. Make a donation.

Appreciate first responders. Show your love and appreciation for those who run into harm’s way to care for another. A visit, a meal, baked goods, cards, letters, and donations are welcome support.

Share your thoughts. Not only can your thoughts, fears, doubts, and insights be a value to you, they can help others as you work through a tragedy together.

Care for your neighbors. There are many kinds of illness, and as many ways to care for those who are suffering. It starts by knowing the people around you. Share your life with your neighbors. Get to know their joy and sorrow. Find out ways you can pray for and serve them.

I was in prison

Finally Jesus says, “I was in prison and you visited me.”

Learn about prison ministry. Most communities have a prison ministry. Learn more about yours and find ways that you can support those in prison, and those recently re-entering society.

Support addiction and abuse ministries. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and domestic violence imprison many in our communities. Support recovery ministries. If you are a recovering addict or survivor, your struggle can be an encouragement to others.

Work for justice. For example, learn what you can do about gun violence.

This story first posted on October 3, 2017.

*Joe Iovino works for at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.