Into the disaster area—with trust in God

What does a relief worker need? Trust in God, motivation, and empathy. So says Elke Nothaft from Southern Germany, who was most recently deployed to Nepal. Her volunteer commitment did not begin quite by chance.

You wake up at five. Perhaps there is a cup of coffee and a little bite to eat. And then the day begins: fire up the water purification facilities, set up the treatment areas. This is a typical workday in a disaster area for trained paramedic Elke Nothaft. Bandaging, applying splints, giving needles. She supports the doctors. Depending on the rush, either with or—mostly without—a bite for lunch. And then in the evening she still has to clear up, clean up, and sterilize. Somewhere around eleven o’clock she collapses on a cot in fatigue.

Totally normal: charity in practice

Why would anyone put themselves through that? “In my parental home we always helped out wherever we could, often with our brothers and sisters in faith,” relates the New Apostolic Christian from Mamming in Bavaria. “I found this beautiful—and never considered it a burden. The joy was quite tangible in everyone, and that gives you a feeling of satisfaction.”

As far as she can remember, she has always been involved with organizational work or first aid functions. “I have always felt the need to help others,” says the 52-year-old. How much of this goes back to your faith? “I have never given any conscious thought about it,” she concedes. “After all, charity in practice is totally normal for me.”

Getting to work with NAVIS

Most recently Elke Nothaft was in Bhaktapur, the third-largest city of Nepal, in order to provide the people with clean drinking water and medical aid. The village had been largely destroyed by a serious earthquake in spring 2015. There was “not a day without a quake”, she said as she recently described her stay there in the social network “You could practically feel the fear in the people.”

The name of the relief organization for which she had been working at the time was NAVIS. The association came into being as the result of an aid initiative among the ranks of the Munich airport fire department: not-for-profit organizations, private donors, and businesses that were happy to contribute had initiated exhaustive aid transportation in 2004 within days after the tsunami catastrophe in South East Asia.

Honduras was the start

Elke Nothaft brings all sorts of skills to the table in her volunteer commitment: she works as a technical assistant for medical and food laboratories. And as a member of the Red Cross and the technical relief organization, she has completed her training as a paramedic and crisis intervention worker.

And yet it was a special set of circumstances that led her to this type of work. In 2006 she visited a friend in El Salvador. As an employee of the foreign ministry, he had contact with an American relief organization in neighbouring Honduras. And so it was that she stumbled into her first deployment abroad.

Quick to make contact with children

Since then, the mother of three has also been at work in the Philippines after hurricanes, and after flooding in Germany and Austria. “I am always fond of remembering my past assignments,” she says. “This can get kind of funny at times because the children always want to explain the language to us.”

But things can also become quite moving. Even today, Elke Nothaft very often thinks back to the little boy in the Philippines who took her by the hand and led her to the nearby burial site of the tsunami victims. “Here is where my mom is buried,” said the boy. “I was so moved that I stroked his head without saying a word,” relates the aid worker, “and then he simply skipped away.”

Our volunteer disaster relief worker, Elke Nothaft, is seeking contact with other people of the same mindset in the New Apostolic Church—whether to exchange ideas or even get involved in some collective projects. Anyone interested in contacting her can write to the editors at

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