Samaritan’s Purse and BG’s RRT After Hurricane Harvey

A map of south Houston shows Santa Fe circled bearing south of Houston and west of Galveston.
Santa Fe, Texas, is south of Houston in Galveston County. Record rain from Hurricane Harvey fell beginning August 25.

Recently, I went to hurricane-hit Galveston County, Texas, with the Billy Graham’s Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains in tandem with Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. It was a hope-filled experience. Even now, hundreds of Americans are still quietly helping recent disaster victims find a new normal.

The “Orange Shirts” of  Samaritan’s Purse 

Sixteen men and women in orange shirts stand in front of a black semi-truck that bears the name Samaritan's Purse.

Women with long brownish-grey hair sits in a car and talks to a chaplain in blue shirt and tan cap.
Homeowner Rita is relieved Samaritan’s Purse crew help rid her home of mold.

Many of these volunteers work under Samaritan’s Purse and are nicknamed the “Orange Shirts.” They come from all over the country and do home clean-up and rebuilding. They range in age from teenagers to senior citizens.   Working with them are the “Blue Shirts” or RRT chaplains who offer emotional and spiritual care to volunteers, home owners, and their communities. Chaplains do a lot of listening, a lot of praying, and a lot of traveling in rent-a-cars from one work site to another. In between, they are available to pray and visit with anyone who shows interest.

A large group of sitting orange shirt volunteers and two blue shirt volunteers listen to a speaker standing by a white board.
Morning meeting and a devotion from Ohio’s Pastor Spencer
Three U-haul trucks in a parking lot have three groups of orange-shirt volunteers in prayer huddles.
Prayer huddles before morning work begins.

Some Q’s and A’s

Do volunteers alleviate all the disaster problems? No. Statistics are fairly constant that 70-80 percent of disaster victims already are dealing with a crisis before a disaster occurs. Problems, for example, might be legal (divorce), medical (dialysis, cancer, drug addiction), financial (unemployment, bankruptcy), or emotional (grief, depression). One of my trainers says “travel in their lane” when offering comfort and “listen, listen, listen.” After a disaster, healing comes more readily when victims articulate their stories and feelings to a safe person.

Do I feel spiritually worthy to be a chaplain? Not really. I bank on the fact that God uses weaknesses.

Two blue-shirt women and a man in orange shirt flank a smiling blond-hair grandma with two little girls dressed in princess customs. Behind them are a wall of crosses and the words "God Be With You."
Homeowner Holly and her two granddaughters joined us for supper. All homeowners are invited for a meal. Also pictured are team lead Brian Bartholme and Chaplain Linda Wentzel.
Woman sitting in car touches a Bible that another woman, standing by her, is holding. Both are smiling.
Orange Shirts autograph the special Bible each homeowner receives after a completed project. Here homeowner Rita is with her friend Kate.

 Am I trained and vetted? Yes. Earlier this year I spent five days at Billy Graham Association’s training facility “The Cove,” Asheville, North Carolina. Prior to that I filled out a lengthy application form which required seven references and an FBI check.  I also had a phone interview with a staff member. Training courses are available online too, and some are mandatory.

Why did I feel that I should go? It is difficult to explain, but I sensed a nudging and a calling to do it.

A corner of an empty room, with tan walls and brown carpet, shows an air mattress with sheets and blanket on it and a blue and purple towel draped over a folding chair, with black suitcase and tan travel bag on the side and end of mattress.
Cozy corner
The tan wall has the word "Yes" painted on it in darker tan paint.
The wall graffiti helped me decide which Sunday school classroom to choose for a bedroom.

Was I scared? Yes, a little bit. I was uncertain I would last the week.

Did God show up? Yes. He was right there.

 

Three smiling middle age women in orange shirt and one smiling woman in blue shirt link arms for photo.
My roomies: Gloria, Bev, and Hatti, from Missouri and Arizona

Many Hands Needed

Because there is overwhelming needs after a disaster most help from both religious and secular organizations is welcomed.

Samaritan’s Purse is probably best known for its Christmas shoe box ministry for underprivileged children, but it also is an international relief ministry. Following NYC’s 911 in 2001, Franklin Graham witnessed so much emotional and spiritual pain that he started the BGRRT chaplaincy program. Since then hundreds of chaplains have been trained and now regularly receive email lists of deployment dates.

Some, but not all chaplains, are trained for manmade disasters such as the recent Las Vegas shooting. When a chaplain finds a week-long date convenient, he or she emails back availability. Then a staff member in North Carolina puts together a team and lets the chaplains know when they will be deployed.  I served with eight other chaplains in Santa Fe, Texas, among about 90 Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. There were seven such sites in Texas at that time. Our site had over 800 work orders for damaged properties garnered from Samaritan’s Purse staff who make the initial contacts and assess damaged homes.

Hallway shows many different kinds of muddy shoes on both walls with a blue plastic "Samaritan's Purse" cover on the floor.
Flood work shoes are contaminated; they were taken off at night and put back on in the morning.

Our group was housed in the educational center of Santa Fe’s First Baptist Church–Alta Loma.  Cooks prepared breakfasts and suppers for us in the church dining hall (we also packed brown bag lunches).  Samaritan’s Purse rolled in a semi-truck equipped with eight private, air conditioned showers. [Thank you!]

A bearded man, woman in apron and cap, and another woman in grey t-shirt sit at a round table smiling.
Resting a little after feeding breakfast to hungry volunteers are California cooks Carl and Lana Wray with Pennsylvania manager Cheryl Bradbury.

Heroes

After my “rookie chaplain” experience, the homeowners and local churches now remain in my prayers. They are my heroes as they persevere with daily tasks and work to get their lives back together the best they can. This Thanksgiving and Christmas will be rough for them so keep them in your prayers and donate where and when you can.Ranch house has new insulation on its outside, with lots of garbage on the curbs between the red pick-up in the driveway.

Lots of leaves and some trash cover the driveway by a brick house. Second photo shows all the debris is gone.
Before and after photos of yard clean-up

There were other new heroes for me. I came away with greater appreciation for Samaritan’s Purse staff and the “Orange Shirts,”  who work all day in sweltering heat and do yucky jobs like “mucking out” flooded houses.

Let’s just say when stuff rots for eight weeks there is a lot of  yuckiness to remove. I heard minimal complaining from the volunteers. They really are the salt of the earth.

 

A photo from car showing a street lined with lots of discarded household items and garbage that was flood-damaged.

Orange shirted men are kneeling beside a kitchen sink with masked covering their mouths and noses.
Unexpected mold is the enemy

 

Man on roof of small building is clearing away debris. A red ladder is leaned against the building and another man is walking toward the building.
Tarping a roof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An orange shirted man holds a ladder while another man stands on it and adjusts a raised American flag and pole.
Restoring a veteran’s flag and pole
Standing inside a U-haul, an orange shirted man is helping an orange-shirted woman adjust her mask.
Samaritan’s Purse volunteer Denise Houchins prepares for some serious mold spraying.

 

A group of 15 men and woman of various ages wave at the camera with big smiles.
Ohio church team waves farewell before heading home.

 

A young man and a middle age man sit at a round table and smile.
Father and son team Vaughn and Jake Ticknor from Montana led work crews while taking time off from their family’s construction business.

Billy Graham’s RRT Chaplains

Of course my heart is with the “Blue Shirts,”  who are compassionate “people persons.” It was a privilege to serve with each one.

A blue shirt man and two blue shirt woman look down at a lot of paperwork on a round table while two blue shirted women stand and smile at the camera.
There is lots of paper work to keep track of who goes where and does what. Chaplain Marilyn is giving me rabbit ears.
A posed shot of six women and one man in the center, all in blue shirts with red lanyards and ids.
From left to right: Chaplains Linda, Donna, Cindy, Larry, Karen, Beth and Kate

Would I do it again? Yes, my two blue shirts are clean and folded in the suitcase with the air mattress.

Orange shirt woman stands with older man and his walker, smiling at camera outside his brick home.
Johna with homeowner Cyrus

I want to thank photographer and Samaritan’s Purse volunteer Johna Brock from Wisconsin and Chaplains Donna and Linda for giving me permission to share many of the above photos. 

 

 

Samaritan’s Purse link: https://www.samaritanspurse.org

Billy Graham Rapid Response Team link: https://billygraham.org/what-we-do/evangelism-outreach/rapid-response-team/about/

Receiving God’s Bear Hug in Las Vegas, Nevada

Little girl in purple shorts and t-shirt bends over with blue shovel to find shells.
We “planted” shells in Vegas.

My birthday milestone was an excuse for a family reunion. I pictured three generations enjoying a Florida beach and gathering seashells. Can you hear the screech of protest tires? Here’s how we ended up in Las Vegas.

Florida to Las Vegas Is a Long Tale Trail

One family member: “Florida is too far. We can’t take off that much time.”

Me: “I understand. So, how about somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, close to home?”

Silence.

An aerial view of snow-covered mountains under a deep blue sky.
Rocky Mountains in March–Brrr.

And then from another loved one: “Remember the altitude sickness and migraine headaches I had the last time we visited Colorado?”

Yes, I remembered.

What to do? Our memory-making destination needed to be reachable for all, at sea level, and affordable.

How About?

Eight-year-old girl is in sand along a tropical pool with palm trees.
Just give me a pool!

“How about Las Vegas?” I was thinking cheap airfare, food, and lodging; sunshine; and low altitude. Just give me a pool!

At first, came the sound of silence again.

Then, one by one, adults offered unanimous approval.

Two girls in shallow water with sand shovels in their hands.
Happiness is warm water, sand and sunshine.

Last month, our family of nine gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate my birthday three months ahead of schedule. We found a family resort with no casinos. Lovely Tahiti Village even offered a lazy river for tubing, sandy beach, and pool.

God’s Bear Hug

My birthday cup was full, I thought, and then I was bear hugged by God right in The Venetian!  Let me tell you there is no greater experience than a God hug, and I wish I could transfer one to you, but that’s not how it works. He’ll deal with you as is fitting on his timetable. But here is my hug experience:

A six-year-old girl poses in front of an iron railing by canal water, Italian store fronts and a cloudy faux blue sky.
A little of Venice at The Venetian

Part of The Venentian is a mall called The Grand Canal Shoppes. The stores look like Venice nestled along a canal complete with gondola rides under a faux, but tasteful, blue sky. It is probably the closest I will come to the real thing, and the granddaughters and I wanted to do it.

The family split into two groups.

Gondolier stands in boat waving while one grandpa waves, his granddaughter smiles, his daughter takes a photo and her boyfriend laughs. All in the Gondola.
Four members of the tribe with Gondolier Luca from NYC, who sang “That’s Amore.”

Potty Break. No! Two Potty Breaks!

My group included favorite daughter-in-law and the three- and six-year-old granddaughters. Just as we were getting into the roped off line the six-year-old winced and whispered: “I have to go to the bathroom.”

The two of us hoofed it and returned to our group. Then, the three-year-old was holding her crotch plaintively.

Not sympathetically, I said, “You’ll have to hold it.”

Her little face melted me, and I pleaded,  “Can you hold it?”

“She can’t,” said Mom.

We got out of line. The gatekeeper was understanding.

By the time we were back with empty bladders we were assigned gondolier Francesca, from Naples, Italy.

Francesca, the Gondolier from Naples

 

Francesca!

Her accent gilded the glide down faux Venice. Francesca was so sweet to the children, even singing an Italian nursery song. Translation, she said: “Papa, I have to go pee pee.”

A little girl and her mom sit happily in a gondola.
Enjoying the ride with lots of smiles

As our gondola entered a circle of water in a holding area, I noticed the Japanese woman at the railing snapping photos of us. The sunset’s window light did create a soft glow, I thought.

And then, suddenly I was spiritually bear hugged. I felt total love, total peace. All was well. And all is well. I was in a thin space between heaven and earth. Time seemed irrelevant. Love embraced everything. I was teary-eyed from this surprising birthday touch from God. No words can capture the experience, but it was very good and too quickly over.

“Happy Birthday, Grandma!” declared the six-year-old.

In that circle of water, Francesca sang Happy Birthday in Italian to the German American “Nona.”  She then rowed us to the dock, and we hugged when I got off the boat.

All was well indeed.

the parchment sign says "All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Julian of Norwich

 

A three-generation family sits at a long outdoor restaurant table waiting for their food.
The Birthday Party Tribe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KAPOW! That’s the Power of Love!

The exercising women had just finished a 60-minute “strong bones, strong muscles” work-out. As a Valentine’s Day salute, they brunched together and toasted love with sparkling apple juice. While munching on deviled eggs and coffee cake, each woman shared a personal anecdote about the power of love. Here are their contributions with names changed.

Power of Love in Sickness

Vows of “in sickness and in health” hold fast under love’s power.

Sadly, one of the instructors was missing from the brunch, because she needed to be with her husband in hospice care. His long struggle with Alzheimer’s would end later that morning. Our hearts were with Ann and Bob. Instructor Georgia said Ann’s loving example was the love story she wanted to contribute to our brunch conversation.

Georgia recalled, that when Bob started wandering away from his exercise class, Ann brought him to our class. She kept him active,  taking Bob  on vacations; they even skied together with Ann’s leadership. As Bob became more and more dependent, Ann didn’t complain.

Last fall, Bob could not attend his daughter Kara’s out-of-state wedding. A few weeks prior to the celebration Kara put on her wedding dress, and Ann and Bob (then in a wheelchair) dressed up for photos. We agreed that Ann’s love set the high bar for vow-keeping “in sickness and in health.”

Tragedy to Transformation

Two of the exercisers, Sarah and Louise, shared how they were advocates for sexually abused victims during lengthy court proceedings. Both women said the circumstances were heartbreaking, but the good news was their loving assistance resulted in the groundwork for healing. Friendships developed. Decades later, both families are thriving.

Love in Surprising Actions

Blue-eye tiger striped kitten with white paws lays on some bricked while looking at the camera.
Furry cuddles and a generous Mom accomplish much.

Smaller examples of love’s power were also shared around the table. Jenna told of her husband making a surprise dinner for their first-year anniversary: steak , potatoes, and salad. Debbie remembered her Mom, who disliked cats, allowing her to keep the kitten a boyfriend gave her.

Becca marveled at her grandmother’s intuitive love. When Becca was confirmed at age 12, Grandma wrote a poem for her entitled “Springtime in Colorado.” At the time, Becca had never been to Colorado, but in her twenties she took a vacation to a Rocky Mountains dude ranch, fell in love, and made the Centennial State home.

Child Love Power

Children sometimes give the best heart-felt gifts, said Hannah. She shared how daughter Lizzie, age nine, called her into the bathroom.

A red bowl holds water with white and pink daisies floating in it. Red painted toe nails on two feet are raised above the water.
A surprise pedicure from a daughter shows love’s power through serving.

“Take a seat Mom,” Lizzie said, pointing to the closed toilet lid, with a footstool placed in front of it. Lizzie proceeded to give Hannah a homemade pedicure with a bucket of water, bath towel, fingernail file, and polish.

Love is not Arrogant or Rude

Remembering cordial courtesies of love was Denise’s contribution. She was thinking about a retired apartment president.  She recalled: After each meeting, he always thanked the officers by name for their hard work. No one does that anymore. We all just get up and leave. I miss him.

“Lose, Lose” Story

Two boxers in a ring are going at it with boxer on the left jabbing at the chin while boxer on the right delivers a blow on an anguished face.
Johnny gives Freddie a bloody nose!

The funniest story came from Jessie, who declared, “This is a lose, lose.”

She continued: In high school I knew a boy named Freddie, who liked me. I was interested in Freddie, until I heard Johnny also liked me. He was a nicer fellow.

Freddie found out about Johnny’s interest in me and wanted to beat him up.

The basketball coach found out about the fight and had Freddie and Johnny put on boxing gloves in the gym to settle the matter.

Horrified and worried, I watched from the gym door as Johnny gave Freddie a bloody nose.

After that, Freddie was mad at me. And Johnny wouldn’t have anything to do with me because his brother advised, “Stay away from her. She’s trouble!”

A six-year-old and her grandma take a selfie with green facial mask on their faces and sliced cucumbers on their eyes.
The facial idea came from a Hello Kitty book–a little work and a lot of fun!

A big red heartPut Love to Work

We each have our Valentine stories, don’t we? They are fun to remember and share during this holiday of the heart. For Valentine’s Day, may win-win love wrap around you and may you, too, spread that power of love.

 

Love in rust font is slanted sideways on the left of parchment paper. First Corinthians 13:5-8a is printed on the paper.