A Ministry of Presence to Heartbroken Surfside Community

By   •   June 25, 2021

Chaplains praying with visitors to memorial for victims
Early on June 24, a wing of a 12-story beachfront condominium suddenly collapsed near Miami, Florida, killing nearly 100 people. Crisis-trained chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-RRT) were in the Surfside area shortly after, offering emotional and spiritual care to the heartbroken community.
Billy Graham chaplains were onsite for nearly a month to help those coping with the loss of family and friends. The remaining section of the condo has since been demolished.
BG-RRT Chaplain Eddie Rivero, a former Miami-Dade police officer, was honored to pray with one person visiting the Surfside Community Center. This spot served as the initial family reunification area in the aftermath of the tragedy.
rubble of collapsed building
After carefully digging through the rubble for two weeks, officials called off the search for survivors.
Emergency crews confirmed 97 deaths. A moment of silence was held as the search for survivors switched to recovery efforts.
Chaplains listen when people want to talk and pray with them when they're open to it.
woman at memorial
Crisis-trained chaplains were stationed at a nearby memorial site piled with flowers and mementos.
BG-RRT chaplain Michelle Gawlinski talks and prays with a woman in Surfside.
Surfside, a picturesque Miami suburb where the collapse took place, is a tight-knit community of around 6,000 residents. The collapse happened at 1:30 a.m., shocking residents in the other wings of the building who heard the loud crash—and community members as they woke up to phone calls and saw the morning news.
A local youth expressed interest in learning more about Jesus Christ, so chaplain Michael Gawlinski shared with him the Steps to Peace with God. Ultimately, they prayed together after the youth chose to put his faith in Jesus.
sign with prayer
Many people are clinging to Christ in the aftermath of this tragedy.
“I’ve been to a lot of deployments … hurricanes, fires, [etc.], but this is different,” said Josh Holland, BG-RRT’s assistant director. “It’s a very tragic one in a way I haven’t seen before.”
Chaplain Michael Gawlinski offers an encouraging word.
Reports indicate 55 of the 136 units in the building collapsed. In honor of their loved ones, family members and friends created a memorial wall one block west of the 12-story building.
A flurry of people with heightened emotions tried to support one another in the days after the collapse.
“Our crisis-trained chaplains are available to listen, and we want all of those who were impacted—including the first responders ... to know that God still loves them and cares about them, even in the midst of such pain and sadness," said Josh Holland, assistant director of BG-RRT.
Please keep this heartbroken community in your prayers.