More than a week after Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains Ray and Suzanne Thompson arrived in Snohomish County, Wash., there are still almost two dozen people missing and at least 29 dead from the landslide that totaled the town of Oso.
While search and rescue teams trudge through a mixture of mud, sewage, chemicals and debris, friends and relatives of the victims are outside the perimeter, grieving and waiting.
“It’s just such a difficult situation because that entire community is gone,” Suzanne Thompson said Tuesday. “There’s so much pain, so much heartache, so much grief.”
The couple has deployed with the Rapid Response Team many times, from the Newtown, Conn., school shooting tragedy to the devastating 2011 tsunami that hit Japan. They’re part of a team of crisis-trained chaplains ready to deploy at a moment’s notice to offer spiritual and emotional care when disaster strikes.
From their current location at Oso Community Chapel in Arlington, about two miles from the site of the slide, the Thompsons can see crushing grief. But they also see a fierce determination among residents.
“These are small communities, and they’re very self-sufficient people,” Suzanne said. “They are diving in to help each other. Wherever they see a need within the community, they want to help. Everyone is very involved with the recovery process.”
Since they arrived in Washington from their Southern California home, Ray and Suzanne have been working with a local pastor whose church has become a meeting center for residents to donate food and clothes, get access to WiFi and hear the latest news.
“We’ve tried to have chaplains there as much as we can, so if people want to pray there’s someone there to pray with them,” Suzanne said.
Ray recently met a young woman who was already dealing with other tragedies in her life before she lost several friends in the landslide.
“Just layer upon layer of need and grief,” Ray said. “I had the opportunity to pray with her, and she just had tears rolling down her eyes. She was a believer, which is not all that common up here.”
Ray has been told about 85 percent of people in the area of the mudslide are unchurched. Those who do know Christ are clinging to their faith more than ever.
“It was refreshing for me, as a chaplain, to hear that she had a relationship with the Lord,” Ray said. “So many don’t, and they’re trying to go through all this grief and sorrow and pain by themselves. They don’t have that cross that was given to us to lay our problems at the foot of.”
Ray and Suzanne bring the love of Jesus wherever they go, as they seek to comfort the hurting. And they ask for continued prayers for residents, first responders and local pastors.
“Just that God would comfort those families that were affected,” Suzanne said, “and that He would bring them peace and carry them through such a horrific time.”