When Bishop Jack Forbes opened up his church to the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team and Samaritan’s Purse, he hoped to be a blessing to the two groups.
But he didn’t realize how much he would be blessed in return.
Both groups deployed to Kingsport, Tenn., after a July 17 storm poured out seven inches of rain in an hour. The result was flash flooding that damaged 100 homes and 65 businesses in a town that isn’t accustomed to dealing with floods.
Bishop Forbes and his congregation at Power Point Church agreed to house the out-of-town ministry volunteers while they stayed in Kingsport. That means temporarily handing over a large part of the church to the ministries, which need sleeping quarters, bathrooms, a kitchen and a large portion of the parking lot.
“We’re letting probably 15 to 20 people sleep there overnight,” said Forbes, who has pastored the church for more than 50 years. “But they provide their own food, their own expenses, and that’s what’s so impressive to me—that they come in just to be a help to people who have lost everything. It’s almost unheard of anymore to find that kind of dedication and commitment from a group of people.”
It didn’t take long before Forbes experienced that dedication firsthand.
He and his wife, Mavis, had extensive flood damage in their basement. They’re 78 and 81 years old and were having a hard time figuring out how to clean up the mess.
They didn’t want to ask for help, worrying they would take volunteers away from others who were in worse shape. But their daughter, Toni New—a Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain—knew they could use a helping hand.
Toni and her husband, Al, have deployed to disasters all over the country, from Hurricane Katrina to the deadly June, 2013 wildfire near Prescott, Ariz.
Normally, Toni is helping strangers, but this deployment was personal. She made sure her family joined their neighbors in signing up for assistance.
“Samaritan’s Purse came and helped us out, and they worked so hard that day,” Forbes said. “They just did a tremendous job.”
The volunteers cleaned out the Forbes’ basement, which was fuller than the couple originally thought.
“Over 50-some years, you acquire quite a few things,” Forbes said. “We had to get rid of a lot of things because of the danger of the mold.”
It was tough to say goodbye to special belongings, but Jack and Mavis were thankful to have helpers to carry it all out to the curb.
“I’m just so blessed by meeting these people,” Forbes said. “Every one of them I’ve seen—they’re just delightful. Absolutely wonderful personalities, outgoing, just have a heart to help people.”
While the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers work on cleaning up—and cheering up—residents in Kingsport, the Rapid Response Team chaplains are also making the rounds, offering emotional and spiritual care to the community.
Since the floods, eight chaplains have prayed with 59 people in the area, speaking encouragement that Jack Forbes says is very much needed.
“Their homes are flooded and everything is lost, and it’s such a feeling of hopelessness,” he said. “So if someone can come in and say, ‘Look, it’s not hopeless,’ there’s something about that, I feel, that is pretty valuable.
“The Lord has a way of reaching out and doing the impossible when we can’t see the road ahead. Jesus came to restore, to restore people to God. People who were frustrated and hopeless a moment before—they can realize the Lord does care for them.”
Forbes has sensed the presence of God among the volunteers. It’s touched him so much, in fact, that he wants to make some changes within his own church.
“It really has taught me and our church that we should be more aware of the needs of the public that go through disaster,” Forbes said. “This has impacted our lives in such a way that we feel like we need to do more as godly people.”
Because of the floods, many in Kingsport have learned the difference between watching a disaster on TV and living it. Together, they’re learning to accept the free blessing of help…and to be a blessing in return.
The Rapid Response Team is currently deployed in three states, including Tennessee.
In Prescott, Ariz., chaplains are offering spiritual and emotional care to homeowners, first responders and other residents, following a devastating wildfire that killed 19 firefighters on June 30. The fire also destroyed more than 100 homes. Chaplains arrived within 24 hours of the tragedy and have since prayed with 1,289 people.
In Colorado Springs, Colo., 32 chaplains have been active since June 15, in response to the Black Forest Fire. The blaze burned a 22-square-mile area and destroyed more than 500 homes. The Rapid Response Team has had the opportunity to pray with 2,407 people in the area.