In 2013, The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team offered hope and comfort in the wake of 21 disasters, from a deadly explosion in West, Texas, to a devastating flood in Queensland, Australia.
The year started out with three deployments that were carried over from 2013—two in response to SuperStorm Sandy and one in response to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, which happened on Dec. 14, 2012.
When a deadly tornado ripped through northwest Georgia on Jan. 30, the Rapid Response Team saw its first new deployment of 2013. Throughout the year, 17 more deployments followed, as volunteers responded to floods, twisters and an Arizona wildfire that killed 19 firefighters.
Hundreds of volunteer chaplains spent time talking with survivors, listening to their stories and offering prayer. Altogether, the Rapid Response Team prayed with more than 18,000 people in 2013. Below is a summary of each deployment.
Hurricane Damage, Ocean County, N.J.
Oct. 29, 2012 – Jan. 18, 2013
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team arrived at the Jersey Shore immediately after Superstorm Sandy swept over the East Coast. The massive storm took the lives of 125 people in the United States and was the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Over the course of the 12-week deployment, 57 chaplains worked side-by-side with Samaritan’s Purse and prayed with more than 4,500 people in New Jersey.
Hurricane Damage; Nassau County, N.Y.
Oct. 29, 2012 – Feb. 13, 2013
A second group of chaplains deployed to hard-hit Nassau County, N.Y., after Superstorm Sandy devastated the area. For nearly four months, 87 chaplains working alongside Samaritan’s Purse prayed with more than 3,700 people.
School Shooting; Newtown, Conn.
Dec. 14, 2012 – Jan. 5, 2013
On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman killed his mother before shooting and killing 26 elementary school students, faculty and staff. The horrific event shocked the small community of Sandy Hook less than two weeks before Christmas. Within hours of the shooting, a group of Rapid Response Team chaplains arrived in Newtown to comfort and pray for first responders, families of the victims and the community as a whole. Between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, 27 chaplains ministered to more than 800 people. “The tragedy in Newtown impacted everybody, and many of us who came in to help continue to feel a burden, a deep sense of grief, from our time there,” said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. “One year later, our chaplains still think about this senseless tragedy and pray for the families and many people we connected with when we were there.”
Tornado; Calhoun, Ga.
Feb. 2 – Feb. 14, 2013
A husband-and-wife chaplain team deployed to Calhoun, Ga., following a deadly tornado that hit on Jan. 30. The pair of chaplains prayed with 130 people over the course of two weeks.
Cyclone Damage; Bundaberg, Australia
Feb. 4 – March 4, 2013
Two American chaplain coordinators traveled to Queensland, Australia, to assist the Australian Billy Graham Rapid Response Team in one of its first major deployments. Working alongside Samaritan’s Purse International Australia, 13 chaplains prayed with 156 people in the aftermath of Ex Tropical Cyclone Oswald, which caused major flooding in the region.
Tornado; Petal, Miss.
Feb. 11 – March 9, 2013
After a tornado damaged 200 homes in Petal, Miss., the Rapid Response Team deployed with Samaritan’s Purse to offer spiritual and emotional care to people in the community. Over the course of one month, 22 chaplains prayed with 980 people.
Tornado; Shuqualak, Miss.
April 13 – 24, 2013
When a tornado tore through Shuqualak, Miss., four chaplains responded along with Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. The chaplains prayed with 175 people in the Shuqualak area.
Explosion; West, Texas
April 18 – May 4, 2013
On April 17, 2013, a fire broke out at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, just north of Waco. While first responders were attempting to put out the fire, an explosion happened, killing 14 people and injuring at least 160 others. More than 150 homes and businesses nearby were damaged or destroyed. The day after the explosion, a team of Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains arrived in the small town of West to come alongside the many hurting people in the community. In total, 18 chaplains ministered to some 1,200 people during the two-week deployment.
Tornado; Granbury, Texas
May 16 – 24, 2013
Five chaplains arrived in Granbury, Texas, after an EF-4 tornado tore through the area, killing six people and injuring as many as 100 more. The chaplains offered prayer and emotional support to 325 people.
Tornado; Moore, Okla.
May 20 – July 12, 2013
The town of Moore, Okla., took a direct hit when a massive EF-5 tornado ripped through on May 20, 2013. Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains arrived the same day to offer spiritual and emotional care to people affected by the disaster, which flattened a large part of the community. The tornado was directly responsible for 23 deaths and hundreds of injuries. “The look on their face was total shock,” said chaplain Jeff Naber. “They’re standing in front of their house that is reduced to rubble, and in many cases they know that they just barely made it.” While deployed alongside Samaritan’s Purse for nearly two months, 48 chaplains prayed with more than 3,800 people.
Tornado; Shawnee, Okla.
May 20 – June 22, 2013
When a series of tornadoes ravaged Oklahoma, a group of chaplains was sent to the town of Shawnee, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Shawnee took a direct hit from a deadly tornado that destroyed 93 buildings and damaged more than 100 others. Over the course of one month, 29 chaplains prayed with more than 2,200 people.
Wildfire; Colorado Springs, Colo.
June 15 – Aug. 4, 2013
The Rapid Response Team deployed to the area of Colorado Springs after the Black Forest Fire destroyed more than 500 homes. During the joint response with Samaritan’s Purse, 34 chaplains ministered to more than 2,500 people. One chaplain recalled spending time with a resident who was having a difficult time: “When he held my hand through the car window, I could tell he wasn’t just holding a hand, he needed another person to hold onto.”
Wildfire; Prescott, Ariz.
July 1 – Aug. 8, 2013
A wildfire near Prescott, Ariz., took the lives of 19 firefighters who were overtaken by the flames as they fought to contain them. The day after the tragedy, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains arrived to offer spiritual and emotional care to the community. Between July 1 and Aug. 8, 27 chaplains prayed with more than 1,700 people. Chaplains attended the public memorial service for the firefighters and spent time talking and praying with people at a makeshift memorial nearby. They also met with families that lost their homes in the fire. “People’s worlds have been turned upside down,” said chaplain Kelly Burke. “You can see the tears and the emotion and the pain on people’s faces. Everybody knew somebody.”
Storm Damage; Collettsville, N.C.
July 17 – 22, 2013
In mid-July, a microburst thunderstorm dumped more than four inches of rain in one hour on the town of Collettsville, N.C. The small community at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains is less than a two-hour drive from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Charlotte, N.C., headquarters. The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains decided to deploy to help take care of their struggling neighbors who were dealing with wind and flood damage. Samaritan’s Purse, which has its headquarters just over 30 miles from Collettsville, also responded. During the short deployment, two chaplains prayed with over 100 people.
Flooding; Kingsport, Tenn.
July 18 – Aug. 4, 2013
The mountainous town of Kingsport, Tenn., sustained serious flooding after a storm dumped seven inches of rain in an hour. The flooding affected more than 100 homes and 65 businesses. The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team and Samaritan’s Purse deployed together to offer spiritual, emotional and physical help to the small community. A group of eight chaplains prayed with 145 people.
Flooding; Catawba County, N.C.
August 2 – 12, 2013
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team deployed to Catawba County, N.C., after a 100-year flood damaged homes and businesses and wiped out roads. The joint deployment with Samaritan’s Purse served some of the closest neighbors of the two North Carolina-based ministries. During the short deployment, 10 chaplains prayed with 223 people.
Flooding; Boulder, Colo.
Sept. 14 – Oct. 25, 2013
On Sept. 12, a 500-year flood devastated a massive area in and around Boulder, Colo. The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team deployed with Samaritan’s Purse to work with residents whose homes were destroyed. The catastrophic flooding spanned an area nearly 200 miles wide and killed eight people. During the six-week deployment, 37 chaplains prayed with more than 2,000 residents and first responders. Volunteer chaplain Peg Rasmusson recalled meeting a woman who was overwhelmed over the damage to her home. “I prayed with her and gave her a hug,” Peg said. “And when I was hugging her, I just said, ‘You’re not meant to do this alone. We’re here to help.’”
Flooding; Weld County, Colo.
Sept. 18 – Oct. 17, 2013
While one group of chaplains served in Boulder County, Colo., a second group deployed four days later to Weld County, where flood damage was extensive. During the month-long deployment, 29 chaplains prayed with just over 1,000 people.
Bus Accident; Statesville, N.C.
Oct. 3 – 7, 2013
On Oct. 2, a bus accident on Interstate 40 in east Tennessee took the lives of eight people, including six members of Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C., which is located just north of the BGEA headquarters in Charlotte. Five chaplains came alongside the church’s pastor, staff and congregation to offer emotional and spiritual support during their time of loss.
Flooding; Austin, Texas
Nov. 2 – 26, 2013
Four people were killed and more than 1,000 buildings were damaged after major flooding in Austin, Texas. Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains working alongside Samaritan’s Purse prayed with 874 people.
Tornadoes; Washington, Ill.
Nov. 17 – Dec. 1, 2013
A series of tornadoes tore through Washington, Ill., on Nov. 17, 2013, and chaplains deployed the same day. Six people were killed and more than 1,100 homes, businesses and churches were destroyed or damaged. During their two-week deployment, 13 chaplains ministered to over 800 people. They worked side by side with Samaritan’s Purse volunteers who were helping people salvage belongings, pick up the pieces of their homes and begin to rebuild. “We are brothers and sisters in Christ,” one chaplain said about the partnership between the two ministries. “Our effectiveness as chaplains would be severely diminished if we did not have Samaritan’s Purse workers to go before us and lay the ground work. They show the love of God before we come in and talk to people about the love of God.”