The lasting change that Siegel, an emergency services dispatcher for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, spoke of was not the horrific devastation, but the effects that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rapid Response Team and the Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief team had on his community in the midst of its hopelessness. The team partnered with Siegel’s church, Shadow Mountain Community Church and others to clear paths through the debris, sift through ashes and compassionately share Christ’s love as they worked. “Once people saw that there was hope coming out of the ashes, they could consider Christ,” said Siegel. “They could say, ‘This is what Christianity is all about, and this is what I want.’”
More than 180 people like Siegel, including hospital chaplains, hospice workers, sheriff’s and fire department workers, stress management instructors and grief counselors, attended the Conference to be further equipped to wrap their arms around people in pain by appropriately sharing the love of Jesus Christ. “Jesus did not come to end suffering. He came to reveal Himself in the midst of it,” said psychologist Jonathan Olford, author of “His Presence in Crisis: A Field Manual.”
In a workshop about the practical elements of a BGEA deployment, Jack Munday, who leads the Rapid Response Team, explained that the approach of the team always involves an underlying sensitivity to where people are in their grief and an openness and trust in the Holy Spirit for opportunities to talk to them about Jesus. “Our goal is that people would discover hope in Christ,” Munday said, “[but] you may need to just sit and weep with them.” He said that availability, a love for people and a passion to share Christ are the basic requirements for a Rapid Response Team member.
Couples like Richard and Eileen Shank, who winter near hurricane-devastated Punta Gorda, Fla; and Pam and Lyle Teeter, from “tornado alley” in Oklahoma; said they want to be prepared to reach out with the love and truth of Jesus Christ in their areas. Many who attended the Conference are of retirement age and feel that their ministry is just beginning. Nancy Founds, 67, said, “The older you get, the more you realize that the time is short to be His presence here. I want to take advantage of it.”
Before he returned to San Diego, Richard Siegel applied to serve on the Rapid Response Team. He said, “Hopefully I’ll be able to give to other communities the kind of help my community received.”