Mike Mattingly wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but it wasn’t quite this.
The chaplain coordinator with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team—who has deployed more than 20 times since Hurricane Sandy in 2012—spent almost a month in Louisville, Miss., where the Mobile Command Unit was first utilized after a late-April tornado ravaged the area.
“I don’t know who had the vision for that thing,” Mattingly said, “but that thing turned out very well.”
Parked next to the Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief Unit, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team’s Mobile Command Unit provides a place for first responders to come and get away from the chaos of the disaster.
It’s also a place for refreshment, both spiritual and physical, with cold water and hot coffee at the ready.
“One of the main reasons [for the Mobile Command Unit] was to give a respite to first responders,” Mattingly said. “We always had coffee [Peets Coffee] or water or iced tea and people would come in and sit down and visit and talk and we’d pray with them.”
In a month’s time, 29 crisis-trained chaplains serving in Louisville prayed with more than 1,600 area residents. Many of them were first responders and other residents who came by the Mobile Command Unit, parked at the Louisville Coliseum, which served as the city’s major distribution center for supplies.
“It’s some of the best ministry we’ve had because that command unit was there,” said Al New, deployment manager with the Rapid Response Team. “I think just having the Billy Graham name on the side of the truck attracted people.”
“That name [Billy Graham] on the side, it resonated with people,” said Mattingly, who deployed with his wife, Pookie. “You would see the name on the side of that command truck and there’s no question that brand carries an image and everybody seemed to know it.”
Often times, after picking up supplies and food from the shelter, Louisville-area residents would stop by and want to share their story. A common opening included an experience from a Billy Graham Crusade, either in person or watching on TV.
“Most everyone who came had some kind of recollection,” Mattingly said. “Or they had a mother or father or grandmother that spoke highly of Billy Graham.”
The command unit is hard to miss. It’s painted black with a logo for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in bold red and white lettering. It’s also large in scope with seating for 27 people inside and includes tables to work on, which several first responders took advantage of.
“One was a state police sergeant who would come in and do his paperwork on the desk,” Mattingly said. “We got to be good friends with him.”
Several firefighters and EMT workers also came by, but it was the police department where word spread quickly. Many were in search of a well-deserved break from directing traffic and chaos around Winston County, where hundreds of homes were destroyed and nine people lost their lives.
“First responders are right in the thick of it,” Mattingly said. “They simply need some place they can go where it’s quiet and they can get away from the struggles and crisis.”
The key to utilizing the Mobile Command Unit, according to both Mattingly and New, is location. Being welcomed to park at the location of the distribution center opened so many doors.
And, of course, timing is always of the essence.
“Those first two weeks are critical in getting yourself exposed and connected with people,” Mattingly said. “Getting people back up on their feet. That’s when they’re hurting the most and that’s when you can do the most good.”
Where is the Rapid Response Team? Click here for an updated deployment map.