God’s Comfort in Tragedy

By Richard Greene   •   May 27, 2009

Mena, Ark. >>

Shortly after 8 p.m. April 9, a tornado, packing winds up to 165 miles per hour, seemingly popped out of nowhere, ripping a swath of destruction through this city of 5,700 in the Quachita Mountains just east of the Oklahoma line. Three people were killed, another 30 injured, and close to 1,000 homes were damaged.

The Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Response Team and the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team were deployed immediately.

Mena mayor, George McKee, asked the chaplains to give immediate attention to middle school students whose building was destroyed. The team participated in two assemblies during which they helped hundreds of students openly deal with their fears and feelings.

In addition, the chaplains had opportunities to minister the peace and presence of Jesus Christ with traumatized town residents.

“When we got there, we found people devastated, in survivor mode,” said chaplain coordinator Al New. “They didn’t know where to turn.”

After hearing the powerful message of the Gospel, several people turned to Jesus Christ, committing their lives to Him.

One 45-year-old man, already laden with health issues, was distressed by the damage to his home. When he heard that God loved him and that Jesus Christ died for his sins, the man gave his life to the risen Savior. Days later, he shared with the chaplains a song he had composed on his guitar about his new life in Christ.

A couple, whose marriage was on the rocks because of built-up bitterness and anger, received pastoral counseling from the chaplains. Though their home was struck by the tornado, their relationship was restored. “Their marriage is much better, and they’re moving forward to the point they’re helping other neighbors get through their crises brought about by the tornado,” Al explained.

Binghamton, N.Y. >>

This upstate New York City was shell-shocked April 3, when an assailant stormed into the American Civic Association community center and gunned down 13 people–before also killing himself. Four others were wounded but survived the assault.

The Rapid Response Team of crisis-trained chaplains arrived within hours. This was the team’s second deployment to Binghamton, the first taking place in 2006 after floods devastated the city.

According to RRT chaplain coordinator Jack Dowling and his wife, Becca, God opened doors for heartfelt ministry during their two-week deployment in April.

They reached out to police officers and firefighters who responded to the tragedy; they attended funerals and consoled family and friends of the victims; they ministered at memorial services; and, when appropriate and with sensitivity, they shared the glorious news of God’s love through Jesus Christ. Nine people committed their lives to Christ.

One was Alejandro, a Cuban immigrant living in Binghamton with his college-aged daughter. Two days after the shooting, he came to the scene of the rampage to learn whether a friend from the American Civil Association had died because the list of victims hadn’t been released.

While there, Alejandro met two chaplains, Hal and Carol Hallam. In talking with Alejandro, the Hallams discovered he had never yielded his life to Christ, so they conveyed how he could experience the joy of knowing Jesus. Right then, Alejandro prayed to receive Christ. That evening, he attended a community memorial service and introduced his daughter to the chaplains. She told them she was a Christian and had attended the Franklin Graham Festival in Binghamton in 2007. She had been praying that her father would make a decision for Christ, and she now rejoiced that God had answered her prayers!

Another profession of faith came after a special chapel service at Davis College. The service, open to the public, was held there because five of its students taught English classes at the civic association. Although none of them were at the association when the shooting occurred, they were shaken by the tragedy; they knew the victims.

A middle-aged woman came to the chapel service distraught. She was a friend of an American Civil Association employee who was shot but survived. After hearing the Gospel message during the service and being ministered to by one of the RRT chaplains, the woman gave her heart to Christ.

Jack and Becca also had the privilege of praying three times with a survivor, twice at the hospital and once in her home. Sun Mi Lee had been shot five times.

“She is a wonderful Christian Korean lady who attended the Franklin Graham Festival in 2007,” Becca said.
Jack’s voice cracked with emotion as he spoke about Sun. “One of the most special memories of our deployment came as we drove away, seeing her in the parking lot waving to us until we were out of sight.”

Linton, N.D. >>

In early April as Fargo residents feverishly piled up sandbags to ward off the rising Red River, the town of Linton was experiencing its own drama two hours southwest of Fargo.

Heavy rains, melting snows and ice damming up two nearby creeks combined to flood this tight-knit German community of 1,200 people. Especially hit hard was the Old Town area, where 70 homes had to be abandoned. Not only were houses lost, but farmers saw their livelihood decimated as their cattle drowned and equipment washed away.

According to RRT chaplain coordinator Marilyn Sides and her husband, Ken, most of the Old Town residents are in their 80s and had less than 30 minutes to escape as the creeks spilled over.

RRT chaplains were deployed alongside Samaritan’s Purse volunteers to minister to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those affected.

God was clearly at work, and Marilyn and Ken saw dramatic life transformation during their almost three-week deployment.

One elderly gentleman was ready to give up. He declared his wish to just go to sleep and not wake up. But as the chaplains repeatedly met and prayed with him, his countenance changed. Before leaving town, the chaplains detected an upbeat attitude–the man was smiling and laughing and wanted to thank his “angels” for coming to cheer him up.

A homeowner in her 60s, Mary found out six months ago that she has cancer. Already distressed by her disease, she gave up her will to live after the flood, so she called her children to say good-bye. But God intervened.

As the RRT chaplains listened to her plight, they prayed for God’s peace to flood her soul. Later, the chaplains called her husband, Dave, to check up on her. Mary had had a change of heart.

“When you prayed for her, she started talking more positively the very next day,” Dave said. “She wanted not only to live again, she even wanted to drive again.”

Chaplains sensed Jesus out there with them every day. The flames of spiritual revival seemed to be igniting as individuals and couples alike began returning to local churches after years of absence, eager to listen to God’s Word.

“He walked right with us as we were meeting these folks,” Ken said. “His presence made the difference in their hearts, spirits and lives.”

L’Aquila, Italy >>

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Italy suffered its worst earthquake in three decades on Monday, April 6. The magnitude-6.3 quake killed nearly 300 people and left about 30,000 more homeless.

According to RRT director Jack Munday, evangelical church leaders told a Samaritan’s Purse advance team dispatched to the area that they did not feel trained or qualified to come alongside people and address their emotional and spiritual needs. So the team recommended that they contact the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team to learn how to meet such needs.

As a result, the church leaders invited Munday to present two identical four-hour emergency response briefings on April 18. He would provide basic instruction on how to appropriately share God’s hope in times of crisis.
Leaders were overjoyed that, even with such short notice, 89 people showed up.

“God used these sessions to generate such excitement, and together they came up with creative ways of how to reach into their communities,” Munday said.

North Central Texas >>

Rapid Response Team chaplains ministered to firefighters involved with bringing raging wildfires under control in North Central Texas.

With the approval from the local city manager and fire chief, the chaplains conducted an Easter service for 40 firefighters at one of their fire stations.

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