Stories of Hope from Rapid Response Team’s Wildfire Deployment in Gatlinburg

By   •   February 16, 2017

Crisis-trained chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team shared the love of Christ with many residents in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Late last year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hurricane-force winds exploded a small forest fire, causing it to leap from ridge to ridge for miles until flames descended with almost no warning on Gatlinburg, a popular vacation town. Fourteen people were killed and at least 2,400 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed in one night. More than 30 crisis-trained chaplains deployed to the area over the course of the month, offering emotional and spiritual care. They prayed with thousands directly impacted by the disaster. Here are two stories of hope from the deployment:

Escaping Through the Flames: Chaplains met a man who, with his wife, had driven through walls of flames to escape the racing wildfire that suddenly engulfed their neighborhood.

After he described the terror of those minutes, he thanked God that he was still alive. That led to a conversation about eternity and about his faith.

The man said he had given his heart to Jesus Christ years ago but had drifted, and now he wanted to do something about it. The chaplains shared Scripture, and he eagerly prayed a prayer of repentance, rededicating his life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Minutes later his wife arrived. When the man told her what he had just done, she joyfully hugged him as they wept together.

Moved by the Spirit: A man was helping a volunteer crew sift the ashes of his home for keepsakes when chaplains stopped by. He told them how his long hair caught fire as he ran through flames to safety—he managed to put it out as he ran. The man, a Native American, said that the “Great Spirit” enabled him to escape and now seemed to be stirring his heart.

When a chaplain responded by asking if he had heard of Jesus Christ, the man suggested, “They are one and the same.” The chaplains told him about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and then showed him Scripture about God’s love. They helped him understand forgiveness and salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

The man realized who was truly stirring his heart, and—standing next to the remnants of his home—he gave his life to the Savior. From that moment on, the man began saying the name of Jesus as the one who stirred his heart.

Are You Walking Through a Difficult Time? Find Peace Today.


Joining together for a moment of prayer. The wildfire damaged thousands of structures, leveling many primary residences.

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  1. STEVEN BULL says:

    It’s time to up the ante. Starting April, I’ll give more. So worthy to be a very small part of such a great Ministry!

  2. John says:

    Franklin, you and your dad and your entire staff and volunteers are a totally God sent blessing to the entire world. I remember always praying the salvation prayer wth your dad after watching one of his crusades on our black and white tv back in the 1960’s when CBS actually broadcast his crusades. How great would it be if CBS still did that! God bless you in every way. Thanks and blessings to you, your dad, and all the volunteers and staff. Jesus is Lord!

  3. Carol Skibenes says:

    My husband and I receive Decision mag. and support BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse. I just want to say thank you and God bless you for all your Kingdom work. God bless you all.