Disaster Relief Conference Helps Attendees Prepare for Crises

By Logan Ryan   •   February 26, 2023

More than 1,200 people attended the Sharing Hope in Jesus’ Name Conference in Orlando, Fla. The gathering helps equip those who are interested in or have already participated in disaster relief—either as Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-RRT) chaplains or Samaritan’s Purse volunteers.
The four-day conference was centered around the theme “Faith Over Fear.” Jim Henry, one of Saturday’s speakers and pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church Orlando, Fla., encouraged attendees, saying, “Fear is a liar, but faith is the victory."
Multiple BG-RRT chaplains shared testimonials about how God worked through their ministry on deployments. Here, Anika Magwood tells how the Lord used her to lead a mother and son to Christ in Poland. Just six months later, the mom died of cancer and went home to be with the Lord. Read more.
While disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, and shootings often happen unexpectedly, BG-RRT chaplains need to be prepared to respond with a ministry of presence. That’s why many are in training to discover what to say and not to say in crisis through courses like “Spiritual and Psychological First Aid,” taught by Jennifer Ellers. “You’ll get more comfortable with the discomfort of emotional pain, but folks, it’s never easy to be in the presence of human suffering,” Ellers said.
Friends from across the country who met on deployment have the opportunity to reunite at the conference. “You don’t realize how many people you’ve come into contact with over the years, and it’s just like seeing your brothers and sisters all over again,” said Mike Gawlinski (not pictured), who serves as a Billy Graham chaplain.
Josh Havens of The Afters led the crowd in praising God alongside his home church’s worship team from Arizona. For nearly a decade, Havens has shared his music at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association events, inviting the Holy Spirit to move in people’s hearts through his songs like “Battles” and “I Will Fear No More.”
Gary Cobb, director of training at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), led a Christian Life and Witness class, giving practical tips on how to share your faith with others. He explained that sharing your personal story can touch others’ hearts. He told his own story of how his brother’s tragic death helped him surrender his life to God.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, closed his message with an invitation to come to the altar for anyone who needed prayer.
“About 90% of people are going to experience a crisis in their lifetime or a traumatic event,” BG-RRT trainer Michael Reighard said. “This is the greatest mission field that we have, because people that are involved in critical incidents need somebody … and they’re struggling. The compassion of Christ is really seen when we reach out to people who are needing help."
Douglas Scott lifted his voice in praise to God during worship. He was excited to complete all of the classes required to become a Billy Graham chaplain at the conference. He’s learned being a chaplain is about listening. “You don’t have to have the answer to every question,” said Scott. “[The term] ‘ministry of presence’ has just really gripped me this week.”
Mike Huckabee, the 44th governor of Arkansas, spoke to attendees on Saturday evening about the detours of life, saying they aren’t always a bad thing. “Don’t let what Satan tries to do discourage you from believing that your God is greater,” Huckabee said.
Living in different towns and busy with ministry, Franklin Graham’s three sons aren’t often in the same place at the same time. But Saturday night, the crowd prayed over Will Graham (vice president of BGEA), Roy Graham (vice president of BGEA’s donor ministries) and Edward Graham (chief operating officer of Samaritan’s Purse). “I know Grandpa (Billy Graham) and Grandma (Ruth Graham) are smiling from Heaven for what God has done in their lives,” said Susan Wilcox, a family friend who led the prayer.
In 2022, BG-RRT chaplains prayed with more than 42,000 people. Will you take a moment to pray for their ministry and for the suffering people they will meet as they respond to crises?