Life-Changing Moments With the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team in 2020

By   •   December 15, 2020

Even though ministry looked different for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team with COVID-19 precautions, they still made sure residents knew they were loved—like here in Laurel, Mississippi.

Since the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-RRT) formed after 9/11 in 2001, crisis-trained chaplains have been ready at a moment’s notice to help in times of disaster.

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But what do you do when the whole world is facing disaster? Or, when ministering to others puts your own life at stake?

You gear up and pray.

Over the course of 2020, that’s what the network of nearly 2,000 chaplains has done as they’ve banded together in times of crisis like never before. In addition to reoccurring hurricanes and tornadoes, a raging pandemic and civil unrest compounded the year’s battles.

Among 47 deployments, the team deployed hundreds of chaplains and lifted up over 38,000 prayers. Some chaplains donned personal protective equipment (PPE) and entered emergency field hospitals to minister to COVID-19 patients, while others showed compassion while standing in storm-ravaged homes. Much of the summer was characterized by violent protests—and chaplains were present to offer a listening ear and talk about God’s love and forgiveness.

The one common denominator that chaplains shared in an unprecedented year? An eternal hope—what everyone has always needed, but some have realized even more so during the challenges of 2020.

Moving forward into next year, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) plans to expand its ministry to law enforcement officers who have faced massive civil unrest in the nation’s larger cities. Through hosting retreats and dinners, the team will help address the emotional and spiritual needs that are unique to officers and their families.

The following is a summary of the BG-RRT’s 2020 deployments, along with some unforgettable moments of ministry.


  • Desoto County, Mississippi | Winter Storm Isaiah 
Just 11 days into 2020, chaplains deployed to DeSoto County, Mississippi, where devastating tornadoes with 100-mph winds tore apart the tight-knit community.


  • Spartanburg County, South Carolina | Tornado 
  • Ponce, Puerto Rico | Earthquake 
  • Pendleton, Oregon | Flooding 
  • Jackson, Mississippi | Flooding 
  • Sumter, South Carolina | Shooting 
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin | Shooting 
After facing flooding in Pendleton, Oregon, one homeowner talked about faith with chaplains and prayed to receive Christ. He said, “Come back tomorrow so my wife can hear this.”


  • Nashville, Tennessee | Tornado  
  • Mt. Juliet, Tennessee | Tornado
  • Cookeville, Tennessee | Tornado
Will Graham, vice president of the BGEA and executive director of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, and his brother, Edward Graham, assistant to the vice president of Programs and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse, pray alongside Billy Graham chaplains and law enforcement officers after six tornadoes swept through Central Tennessee, leaving 25 people dead and dozens injured.
  • Cremona, Lombardy, Italy | Pandemic
When Italy—the nation with the highest elderly population in Europe—became a hotspot for COVID-19, Billy Graham chaplains donned safety gear and deployed to serve at a Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospital in Cremona. Chaplain Damaris Scalzi (not pictured) shared her perspective of fear in the pandemic: “That’s where your faith has to come in,” she said. “If you feel called to help someone—to help the sick—you can’t shrink away.”
  • Jonesboro, Arkansas | Tornado 
  • New York City, New York | Pandemic 
As the virus spread uncontrollably in New York City, Billy Graham chaplains deployed alongside Samaritan’s Purse to offer a ministry of presence to medical staff, COVID-19 patients and the community. More than 1,600 people prayed with chaplains in the area.


  • Chattanooga, Tennessee | Storm 
  • Monroe, Louisiana | Storm 
  • Seneca, South Carolina | Storm 
  • Laurel, Mississippi | Storm 
  • Onalaska, Texas | Tornado

    The week before a twister shredded neighborhoods in Texas, another massive storm system spewed dozens of tornadoes throughout the South and killed 36 people. The Rapid Response Team and Samaritan’s Purse grabbed their masks and deployed to Seneca, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Monroe, Louisiana; and Laurel, Mississippi. The deployment in Texas marked the first time chaplains have ministered in five states at one time due to tornadoes.


  • Midland County, Michigan | Flooding 
The pandemic may have canceled many events—but not natural disasters. Chaplains Donna Lamb and Rebecca Bell talked with a local about faith after historic flooding submerged much of Midland County, Michigan.
  • Bowie, Texas | Tornado 
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota | Civil Unrest
  • Charlotte, North Carolina | Community in Crisis

    The death of George Floyd sparked riots and protests for racial justice across the nation. Billy Graham chaplains deployed to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to be there for the hurting community. Another 78 chaplains deployed to Charlotte, North Carolina, as protests continued.


  • Greensboro, North Carolina | Community in Crisis 


  • Locust, North Carolina | Law Enforcement Critical Response


  • Bertie County, North Carolina | Tornado 
  • Charlotte, North Carolina | Pray on MLK Event 
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa | Derecho 
  • Tama, Iowa | Derecho

    The Rapid Response Team deployed to two Iowa cities after a derecho—an unusual windstorm with straight-line winds—damaged hundreds of homes and buildings.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina | Republican National Convention 
  • Napa, California | Wildfire 
  • Kenosha, Wisconsin | Shooting

    Violent protests and fire broke out in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the shooting of Jacob Blake. Chaplains showed no partiality, knowing that all people need the love of Jesus Christ.
  • Lake Charles, Louisiana | Hurricane 
  • DeRidder, Louisiana | Hurricane 
  • Jennings, Louisiana | Hurricane 
When Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, Billy Graham chaplains were on the ground within 24 hours. They ministered to shaken residents and passersby, talking about a God of refuge and strength. The deployments in Lake Charles and DeRidder are ongoing, meaning chaplains will continue to minister there in 2021 as more homes are repaired.


  • DeQuincy, Louisiana | Hurricane 
  • Birmingham, England | Stabbing Event 
  • Jackson County, Oregon | Wildfire 
  • Santa Cruz, California | Wildfire 
  • Hendersonville, North Carolina | Shooting 
  • Baldwin County, Alabama | Hurricane 
  • Beachie Creek, Oregon | Wildfire
Tens of thousands were displaced when ruthless wildfires swept through the West Coast. Chaplains listened to locals’ stories as they recounted the days of uncertainty.


  • Levy County, Florida | Law Enforcement Critical Response
  • Nassau, Bahamas | Pandemic 
As coronavirus cases overwhelmed the island of Nassau, Bahamas, chaplains helped at a Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospital so patients would know they are never alone.


  • Alexander County, North Carolina | Flooding


  • Mount Holly, North Carolina | Law Enforcement Critical Response
  • Concord, North Carolina | Law Enforcement Critical Response