Jointly led by Franklin Graham, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response Team and Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief Team deployed within 48 hours after Katrina made landfall. The two organizations have been together caring for grieving Gulf Coast residents—spiritually and physically—ever since.
Franklin Graham’s two armies of volunteers, “the blue and the gray” as they are affably referred to, have been living, eating and ministering together in the Gulf Coast region for the last eight months.
The Katrina-Rita-flooding disaster is a whole new era for the two organizations working together because of the magnitude of the destruction, says Luther Harrison, North American regional director at Samaritan’s Purse. “The goal of Samaritan’s Purse [in disaster relief] is to have a local church in place to care for homeowners,” Harrison says, “but with church buildings destroyed and members displaced–there’s no way we could do this without the BGEA chaplains, and especially now, because churches are just now starting to come back. The chaplains are really making that bridge.”
After hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma hit the Gulf Coast late last summer, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team and Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief Team deployed to help residents in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida. Since then, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers have assisted more than 7,300 families, and Rapid Response chaplains have prayed with more than 34,000 people and led more than 1,400 to faith in Christ. “God has given us an opportunity that’s bringing many souls into the Kingdom,” says Rapid Response chaplain Marilyn Starnes.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, based out of Charlotte, N.C., and the Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief Team, based out of Boone, N.C., work hand in hand–sometimes literally–as they form prayer circles in the driveways of homes where they have ministered. As Samaritan’s Purse teams show God’s love by placing tarps over roofs, removing trees, muding-out homes and seeking to recover important items for homeowners, BGEA chaplains follow, comforting residents by talking and praying with them.
“The chaplains have been the backbone for the volunteers who have come to help us,” Harrison says.
Responding to Responders
Jack Munday, who heads up BGEA’s Rapid Response Team, says another key responsibility of chaplains is to minister to first responders. Capt. John Bryson of the NOPD has formed a close relationship with the Rapid Response Team. “We need to be ministered to, to have people there with us to pray and just to unload on,” he says.
Lt. Bruce Adams, also with the NOPD, believes that suicides have been prevented by the presence of the chaplains, as well as by the concern of local pastors. With many officers’ spouses relocating to other states, Adams says that officers are receiving divorce papers; they are going through a lot and there’s a lot to pray about. He adds that to see a smiling face and be asked, “How are you doing today?”–and to feel that someone genuinely cares to hear the answer–is a blessing. “All day long you see people that speak to you,” Adams says, “but when one of the Samaritan’s Purse people or BGEA chaplains sees you, they’ll stop and ask how you’re doing and wait for a response. It’s not a passing ‘How-you-doing-good-bye-see-you-later.’ They truly have an ear.”
In the early months after Katrina, chaplains visited with homeless NOPD officers who were living in shelters. In a few cases, they rode along with officers to assist with death notifications and, in other cases, they were given Sheriff’s Department radios so officers could contact them about visiting grieving homeowners returning to their homes.
Answering the Call
Munday says some chaplains have also filled in for local pastors by preaching for them. In Plaquemines Parish, 61 percent of homes with major flooding lacked insurance. At the request of local officials, chaplains organized mid-week and Sunday services there because so many churches were destroyed or closed down. At those services several people have received Christ. Munday adds that the Rapid Response Team was notified by FEMA when a new area of New Orleans opened to the public and that chaplains have been given permission to hold church services in areas where FEMA volunteer housing tents were set up. At the recent request of a St. Bernard’s Parish leader, Billy Graham Rapid Response chaplains are now also conducting after-school programs for children in that parish.
Michael Green, pastor of the devastated Faith Church in East New Orleans, says Christians have a message of eternal hope that people in the Gulf Coast region need to hear. “The government and FEMA can’t do it,” he says. “People from Samaritan’s Purse and Billy Graham were here before the winds stopped blowing and they’re still helping people. … [with] a message of hope, a message of life. This is the message we need.”
Both the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team and Samaritan’s Purse are committed to the Gulf Coast Region at least through the rest of the year.
If you are interested in ministering with the Rapid Response Team or learning more about how to bring God’s comfort and hope to those in crisis, visit the Rapid Response Team section.