How do we treat others when we're going into adversity, making our way through it, and then emerging on the other side?

Each stage gives us an opportunity to treat others well, indifferently, or poorly.

Last week I talked with a friend who works for a construction company. Covid-19 hit their industry early and hard. Many contracts were delayed or cancelled. It’s a large family run business. He’s on the leadership team but not part of the family.

As crisis arrived, the company asked if employees would voluntarily take pay cuts, sharing this looked like the only way they could make it through together.

Many volunteered for furloughs and cuts. He did too.

Because trust was there, they weathered this transition.

As the crisis dragged on, the trust and cuts enabled them to make strategic decisions in a way that respected everyone involved and also the vision they were working on together. Not easy, but possible.

A couple of months ago as the year ended, the company announced: Together, the company had not just weathered the storm but actually started to do well again, so all voluntary salary cuts and reduced pay for furloughs would be restored retroactively. Unexpected. Plus they were giving cost of living raises for 2020. Definitely unexpected to get back salary they’d given up and then get raises. Plus, the company in advance was going to start 2021 cost of living raises immediately.

With so many stories of lost jobs and businesses closed or limping, it was good to hear how this story ended so generously. We also then get insight into the kind of character that was at the company before the crisis and how that built trust that made possible navigating the onset of the storm.

As we’ve worked in different humanitarian crises in this country and around the world, we know that disasters reveal as much as they destroy—broken systems, preexisting injustices, social fractures, but also character, generosity, and trust.

So this story gives us a series of questions we can ask, whether faced with a pandemic, a health scare, work stress, or a thousand other trials we’ll face:

  1. How can I let God’s love shine through me before adversity so that we are in good and just relationships to face whatever is ahead?
  2. How can that light shine then through early stressful decisions when temptations toward selfish fear come on strong?
  3. How can navigating through the ongoing challenges be guided by this light?
  4. On the other side of crisis, how can our generosity be testimony to the Light of the World that saw us through the darkness?

These aren’t the only questions to ask of course, but they’re good ones. They apply in a business, in a nonprofit, and in our personal lives as we seek to do good for others when we’re under stress. Hearing the story of the construction company, I was grateful for the light they were shining—and how they were pushing me to ask myself (and maybe you to ask yourself) how I’m going to let it shine.

Kent Annan is director of Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College, where he leads an M.A. program as part of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Jamie Aten is the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and Blanchard Chair of Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College.