For 26 years Rick Jett preached in local churches in Kansas and Indiana, including 18 years at the Marion (Indiana) Church of Christ. Now, as executive director of International Disaster Emergency Services (IDES), he connects with local churches and missionaries to distribute resources to disaster stricken areas around the world. Rick is a graduate of Ozark Christian College. He and his wife of 26 years, Nancy, have two children, Richard and Rachel.
How would you describe the ministry of IDES?
The International Disaster Emergency Service is an organization that seeks to be the channel through which Christian churches and churches of Christ as well as individual Christians can meet people in their time of physical needs. We try to help people who are hungry and to meet medical emergencies. Of course everything we do is for evangelism, to demonstrate the love of Christ. We’re trying to be the Restoration Movement’s “reach out” in times of real need. We want to represent our churches in meeting those physical and spiritual needs of people.
How did IDES come into existence?
My father in law, Milton Bates, was a pattern maker at General Motors and an elder in the church. He came home one night and was watching the evening news. There was a story about a tidal wave that had hit Bangladesh. He was moved to tears. He thought, “Where is the Christian church? Somebody ought to be out there helping these people.” That was God’s calling to him, I guess. He had come out of the Presbyterian church late in life, so he tried to investigate to see if the Christian church had anything like this. He wrote letters to leaders of our brotherhood. Nine men replied that they would work with him to put something together. In 1973 at the North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis they met, and that became the first meeting of the board of directors of IDES. After that they hired Richard Sprague as the first general manager, who raised funds, telling about the work. From there they began to start meeting needs around the world.
What makes IDES unique from other disaster relief agencies?
Basically, we always are working through Christian workers. We always channel relief through our Christian churches either through the local churches or our Christian church missionaries. We work with missionaries already on the field, strengthening their local witness. Hopefully, the local church and local ministries get the credit so the church is strengthened or grows. If there is no church or missionary we try to recruit someone. Team Expansion is a big partner in helping us recruit people for new fields when there is not someone already on the field.
Do you usually call them, or do they call you?
Some of our missionaries have us on speed dial! If they know about us, they usually call us. If they don’t know about us we will call and work with them to try to come up with a plan.
Is the church being outdone in disaster relief by secular and government agencies?
No. I think we’re out there ahead of the pack. It’s been my experience, especially in the Gulf Coast, that people in the communities are saying it’s because of the churches they’re getting their homes back together. We’re able to come in and really help the people. I don’t think we’re being outdone. The other groups have more resources, but our churches have really stepped up and done a great job of distributing help and ministering to people. I’ve been very proud.
How can churches be ready to help when disasters occur?
We are trying to help churches organize a response team. We like them to have a team leader to recruit workers and to create a database to catalog people’s skills. It would be good for a church to collect basic tools chain saws, generators, things that are needed after a disaster takes place to be transported to the area. We’re trying to get into some of the churches to provide training about what is expected on a disaster site, and how we work together.
How do you keep from getting overwhelmed?
We do get overwhelmed. We have to constantly draw strength from other believers and from the Lord. When you cry with a family who’s thankful for the work you’ve done in their yard or house, you’re energized to go on to the next place. You start meeting the people and you start seeing life come back in to them that keeps you going. The fellowship of Christians working together, touching lives that pumps you up. It’s really exciting when people come to know the Lord. When you start to see God’s Spirit working in their lives, you have your strength renewed.
Katrina and the tsunami have been the headline grabbers over the past couple of years. How do they compare with other needs in the world?
They’re definitely head and shoulders above anything we’ve ever faced. No one has ever seen anything to the magnitude of these disasters. They’ve taken prominence because we’ve had the resources to meet those needs. But we do still have hunger needs. Famine in Eastern Africa (we’re trying to get food into those areas), an earthquake in Indonesia, constant needs in Sudan. We’re involved with many situations that don’t get into the news.
Are churches and individuals still connecting with those disasters, or have they become old news?
The tsunami is getting a little less recognized. We do have churches raising funds to build houses in Indonesia. We’ve built over 400 homes in Indonesia and we’d like to build another 400. Each of those homes costs a little over $1,000. We’ve gone into several villages, and built wood frame houses 6 by 6 meters. People are thrilled. We’re getting them out of tents. We hope to continue to do it as long as the supplies and visas allow workers to stay there. There is still a lot of need in Indonesia a lot of people are still homeless.
They’re establishing a church in the village in Thailand where we worked. Walter Ridgley and Rick Walden are based in Chiang Mai, but they went south and worked in the tsunami area. They took a lot of indigenous students with them from their school (Lanna Bible College), and some of those students have worked and done the evangelism.
Trauma takes place all over the world. How do you determine what constitutes an “emergency”?
If it’s a life and death situation. If it’s a person starving, without shelter, and they need something to keep them physically alive, that takes precedence. If it comes down to “that person needs a bowl of rice,” we’re going to give them a bowl of rice rather than say this is how you can grow rice over the next three months.
We try to look at all situations, but our resources are limited. So if we see life or death emergency , we’re going to do that before something else.
How do you tie in to local church VBS programs?
We provide a program that shares an overview of what we do to help promote missions. It’s geared toward how children themselves can meet needs of people and share the gospel. We have video that indicates what IDES does and how they can give their pennies, dimes, and quarters to meet the need.
How would you sum up the ultimate impact of IDES?
I strongly believe that IDES is probably the most strategic ministry of our churches today. The world is so numb to our words. People are saying, “You show it to me.” We’ve got to be salt and light by doing the deeds. We’ve got to put flesh to Jesus’ love. Then we earn the right to speak, because people see that we do care. “You’re not here to scam me or take advantage of me. You really do love.” We’ve got to demonstrate God’s grace to people. Our ministry gives churches a channel to express that.
Brad Dupray is director of public relations and advertising with Provision Ministry Group, Irvine, California.