Easter 2012 was a little unusual for Ginger and Denny Sanders. Instead of worshipping with family and watching little ones collect colored eggs hidden strategically in the lush spring grass of Alabama, they spent the weekend wrapping their arms around heartbroken tornado survivors in the Dallas area.
As long-time chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, the Sanders have answered calls to serve everywhere from Haiti to North Carolina to their own backyard during the 2010 Birmingham tornado.
“It is humbling to be called out to serve with the Rapid Response Team (RRT) at any time of the year,” said Ginger, “but Easter weekend made us think of the reality of what Jesus did for us.”
The couple arrived on the Saturday before Easter. “This day, the day after the Crucifixion and the day before the Resurrection, which few ever speak of, was to be a special day for a lot of people,” said Ginger.
These are their stories.
Where Love Was Found
The chaplains were asked to visit a couple who had the second floor of their home ripped off by one of the tornadoes. The couple was not married, but had bought this house together two years ago. They also lost four pets in the storm.
Hopelessness was etched across their faces.
When the chaplains showed up in the couple’s yard with the Samaritan’s Purse (SP) management team, they hugged and cried. The SP site manager shared Psalm 61, opening the door for hope. Then the team quietly walked away, allowing the RRT chaplains to go deeper into the hope that only Jesus gives.
This young couple prayed together to receive Christ for the first time. The chaplains encouraged them to continue their walk with the Lord: “As long as they keep Him center of their relationship, there is hope and restoration.”
The chaplains were asked to deliver Bibles to a Samaritan’s Purse team leader, so they could be signed and given to a family. When the chaplains arrived, most of the family was in the yard: mother, father and three teenagers—14, 16 and 17.
The chaplains listened to the family’s stories of the night of the storm while the Bible was being signed. When the SP team leader presented the Bible, he spoke to them of hardships a family goes through, but that the Word of God can give them direction. He then asked one of the chaplains to pray.
Before the prayer, the chaplain felt led to ask those gathered to form a circle, bow their heads and close their eyes. After explaining the plan of salvation, he led the group in the Prayer of Salvation.
One by one, the family chimed in and prayed aloud.
When asked who had prayed that prayer for the first time in their life, Dad, Mom and all three teens raised their hands.
No Job Too Small
An employee at the local police station talked to a woman named Pam who stopped by to find help getting a tarp on her roof. The police gave her the number for SP; when Pam called, the person she spoke with discerned that Pam was struggling with her emotions.
When the chaplains heard, they paid a visit to Pam who relayed the story of the storm. The single woman in her 50s said she was very worried about her mom that day. Pam also said she didn’t need very much help, that others needed it more.
The chaplain explained how some sinners feel the same: “Some people are killers and murderers and others have only a few small sins, but Christ came for all, just like SP helps people with big repairs and small.”
After sharing the salvation story, the chaplain mentioned it was Easter weekend: “What a great time to accept Christ.”
Led by the chaplain, Pam prayed to receive Christ. Then, she went to tell her Mother, who is already a Christian that Billy Graham chaplains led to Jesus.
“My mother will be so happy,” said Pam.
Finally, the RRT chaplains traveled to a location where a team from Samaritan’s Purse (SP) was repairing damaged homes. When one of the chaplains noticed a man standing in the street observing the activity, she asked if he was the homeowner. The man, Rick, said he was a contractor from Plano, Texas.
After a few minutes of conversation, the chaplain asked Rick if he goes to church in Plano. He said, “When I go, I attend St. Mary’s.” The chaplain inquired about it being Easter weekend and if Rick believed Jesus died for his sins and was raised again. She then shared about believing, confessing and accepting Jesus. After further discussion, the chaplain led Rick in the Prayer of Salvation.
The company name emblazoned on Rick’s shirt was Image Cleaning. That night, an SP volunteer shared that later in the day, a supervisor for Image Cleaning saw the team getting ready to pray and came over to join in—the supervisor had apparently been planting seeds in Rick’s life.
“What a wonderful way to spend the Easter weekend,” said Ginger, “to know that new life and the eternal salvation in Heaven was given to nine people.
“My thoughts turn to this day, the day before the resurrection,” she added. “Jesus literally took the keys of death from Satan and Satan was defeated. Saturday, when these nine souls gave their life to the Lord, Satan was defeated nine more times.”
Reflecting on the emotional weekend, Ginger pointed out, “This was why Jesus died on the cross for our sins, to be raised in newness of life, for everyone who receives Him. To be present with these people as they prayed to receive their free gift of salvation was the best way I know of to spend Easter.”
Being away from family and friends during a holiday is not easy. “But we know their prayers were with us and we now have new friends and family in Christ,” said Ginger. “We will all be together in Heaven one day, celebrating at that banquet table He has prepared for us.”