The river that bisects Minot, N.D., may have crested in late June, but in some ways, the scope of the historic flood is just beginning to make an impact. In recent days, the floodwater has receded enough for Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains to minister to hurting people, working alongside cleanup volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse.
“People have been displaced from their homes for more than seven weeks,” said RRT chaplain coordinator Chuck Bender, who is on the ground in Minot. “They are returning home to find mud and standing water remaining in their basements.”
The Souris River, which begins in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and flows for a short distance though North Dakota, set a new record for flooding, rising so quickly on June 22 that it could be seen covering the eaves of homes. The flood broke a 130-year-old record for high water. Some 4,000 homes have been affected.
Bender and his wife, Sandy, arrived from California on July 24 and set up camp alongside Samaritan’s Purse volunteers at First Assembly of God Church in Minot. Keith Stiles, the deployment manager for the Rapid Response Team, described how partnerships with local churches are crucial during RRT deployments. “They host and house volunteers and help introduce us in the community, but their most critical role is in followup.
“When we run across people who want to be connected for the first time or reconnected with the Lord and to a church, we turn to them,” said Stiles. “It is the foundation of what we do.”
Bender described the scene in Minot: “When you come into town, you see debris on the sidewalks like you normally do in a flood. The problem is, when you get into the low-lying areas, there are a lot of catch basins and slews that don’t have drainage. We have standing water as high as 15 feet in some areas.”
Only a small percentage of homeowners have flood insurance, said Bender. Many of the elderly are in need. “People all over town are wringing their hands and are having problems dealing with this situation,” he added.
Just yesterday, Bender and his wife prayed with almost a dozen hurting people. “People are having a hard time. They are in shock and need emotional and spiritual care,” he said.
One young mother told the Benders that she has been dealing with the flood for eight weeks now and “I still feel like I can break down and cry at any minute.”
Another couple who asked for prayer expressed helplessness. “Our hands are tied. We don’t know what to do or which way to go.”
A janitor who works at First Assembly of God Church needed a little encouragement. He told Bender, “I am just a janitor but I am not afraid to pray for anybody.” Bender reminded him that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. “You are washing people’s feet here.”
The chaplains also prayed with a man who recently retired from the Air Force. “God is using him as an example for other neighbors around the area,” said Bender. “He is telling people that God is in control and He is there even in disaster situations.”
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