Nov. 17, 2009 – In the aftermath of heavy storms that caused massive flooding in late September, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team and Samaritan’s Purse deployed Sept. 24 to several communities just outside Atlanta. Nine people had died in the area and more than 1,000 homes were severely damaged.
Now, two months later, chaplains are just winding down their ongoing efforts.
Keith Stiles, who is the Deployment Manager for the Rapid Response Team, explains that recovering from a flood is “very slow, tedious work. When flood waters get into homes, they contaminate every thing they come into contact with because there is so much bacteria. People have to throw away everything that has been touched by the water. Then you have the problem of mold, so you have to strip out drywall and flooring, and spray to prevent mold.”
But what really takes the most time is ministering to people who have experienced significant emotional pain. “When you help these people take all their cherished possessions to the curb and throw them out, there is a lot of psychological damage,” says Stiles.
“These people have lost their lives in this flood. So we come in and try to get them to understand that the things of this world are exactly that – that they are things of this world. We try to get them connected or reconnected with God,” he adds. “We give them an eternal perspective and this leads to discussions and prayer and a walk with Jesus Christ.”
Although the team visits every home in an area, says Stiles, in special cases like when a person seems to need continuing follow up, chaplains will return every few days until they know that the person has the support they need to have in place.
“It’s case by case,” Stiles adds. “One visit may be enough. Sometimes we are back two or three times a week for the time we are there. You make these special relationships while you are there. It is very personal.”
Since the Rapid Response Team first deployed to Georgia, 40 chaplains have prayed with more 1,500 men and women. Twenty three of those people accepted Christ for the first time. Eleven rededicated their lives to Christ.
Although the chaplains will be leaving the area on Nov. 21, the long-term impact of this deployment will be felt for years to come. Here are just a few stories.
A Hope that Frees and Comforts
Allison came to the RRT/SP host church to seek assistance because a tree had fallen on her roof. A team member from Samaritan’s Purse suggested that she speak to one of the RRT chaplains. Allison had said that her 17-year-old son had been killed a year ago and she was depressed because of her loss. She also was feeling sad because the one year date of his death was coming up. She mentioned that her older son is in jail. The chaplains shared the hope of Jesus Christ with her. Allison accepted Christ and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer. The chaplains also encouraged her to be baptized and find a home church.
Love is the Drug
The RRT chaplains ran into a man named James at a Walgreen’s Pharmacy. James said he had tried to live right in the past and was not sure he would go to Heaven. The chaplains shared with James and led him to Christ. He prayed the Sinner’s Prayer with the chaplains. James had said he “hoped” he had Salvation and now said he knew he had Salvation. James wanted a copy of “Steps To Peace” to take home to share with other family members.
Lost But Now Found
RRT chaplains were visiting a neighborhood where many of the flood victim’s homes have been condemned. While walking through the area they met Roy, whose house had sustained heavy damage from the flood. Roy was having a hard time with everything but felt it was more important for him to escort the RRT chaplains to all of his neighbors for prayer.
Roy was very concerned about Shearl, an 85-year-old man who had lost his wife in the past year. Shearl told the chaplains that if it was not for Roy’s son whom he is very close to, he would just rather die. Roy’s son is the one that keeps him going. The chaplains prayed with Shearl for encouragement in the loss of his wife.
After praying, the chaplains had a discussion with Shearl about his salvation. Shearl told them he attended church but did not know where he would spend eternity if he died. Chaplains continued to build their relationship with Shearl then explained the plan of Salvation to him. Shearl decided he wanted the Lord to come into his life and prayed to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
In with the New, Out with the Mold
The RRT chaplains visited with Libby, who previously attended the 7th Day Adventist Church. She had been baptized at the age of 12 because her mother had put her name on a list and was baptized again when her daughter requested that she be baptized with her. Libby had been trying to do “good works” all of her life.
The chaplains shared Steps to Peace with her; Libby said she had never prayed that prayer before. Following the prayer she accepted Christ. Libby’s Bible had been thrown out due to mold and she was extremely excited when the chaplains presented her with a new Bible. The chaplains also encouraged her to be baptized again, only this time for herself and the Lord.
A Real Renovation
Since Thor and Sabita bought a fixer-upper in Austell a few years ago, Thor has worked diligently on it, replacing joists and beams under the house, the entire flooring, and the windows. Thor and Sabita had hoped to raise their future children in that house, but on Sept. 21, all those plans came crashing down. Their home filled with flood water, and the house is almost a total loss.
A crew of Samaritan’s Purse volunteers mudded out the home, and stayed an extra two days, pulling nails and staples from the walls and ceiling. Thor worked with them, and he enjoyed their company and camaraderie. On the fourth day of their work, the crew invited Thor and Sabita to come to camp for dinner, so they did. Afterward, the SP team leader asked two RRT chaplains if they would spend some time visiting with Thor and Sabita at the dinner table.
During the visit, Thor shared about a near-death experience he had years ago. When the chaplains asked if he could remember praying to receive Christ into his heart, Thor shared that God had answered his prayer years ago that his grandmother would live for a long time. (She is now 91 years old.)
Thor is a very intelligent young man, and relies heavily on reason and deduction to figure life out. He also shared that a few years ago he came to the realization that the more he tries to control life, the more he knows he’s not able to.
Sabita answered the chaplains’ question simply by saying that she had not prayed to receive Christ. The chaplains and the SP team leader shared about knowing Christ. They also shared Scripture and the pamphlet, Steps to Peace with God. Both Thor and Sabita prayed to invite Christ into their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior.