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/

What I Learned From Refugees

In light of current events I’m reposting a blog about  tutoring refugees in 2015. Two facts: 1) They need support. 2) We won’t be able to help them all.

But here’s a challenge: our government, under Democrat and Republican presidents, has not and cannot do as much as people wish. I urge you to consider thoughtfully and prayerfully doing something that makes life better for at least one refugee. Protesting makes a point, but volunteer hands and feet, and private pocketbooks, speak louder. There are opportunities everywhere.

This could happen to any of us. (two photos by anonymous friend)

Heartbreaking Statistics

For the first time since WWII more than 50 million refugees worldwide are displaced permanently, and the number is climbing. The media has shown

 

Syrian refugees in 2015 seek safe refuge in Europe.  Photo courtesy of the UN Refugee Agency.

 

many disturbing images. In the summer of 2015, I tutored refugees in an English as a Second Language class. Fresh off the planes, they came from Burma, the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba. Here are some impressions:

KFC, Cheesecake, Ice Cream

“I like KFC. It–it is good,” says the middle-aged Iraqi woman, when asked her favorite American foods. “Oh, and cheesecake is very delicious,” she adds. She tells me she spent four years in Jordan after fleeing Iraq. She wants to work as a chef. One of her adult sons is with her in the U.S., but she worries about the other one still in Iraq. “It is very dangerous,” she says.

When her U.S. son picks her up from class, he asks how his mother is doing. His English is good. I suggest he might help her with homework. He frowns, “I want her to learn to do it herself.” I gently say she might learn faster if he helps. There’s silence. I don’t think this idea is going to fly in entrenched cultural roles.

“I like ice cream,” smiles the petite, shy twenty-year-old from Burma. She draws a picture of her former home—a thatched hut on stilts. Now she lives in a city apartment with her sister and brother-in-law. She enjoys listening to Christian music on her iPhone and wants to be a tailor. She is always early to class with homework completed.

Afghan Brothers

“My father is old; my mother is happy; my girlfriend is beautiful.” These are the sentences using adjectives that two Afghani brothers create. They have only been in the U.S. a few days. Their English is poor, they say, because they have spent five years in Hungary, followed by four in Turkey. They yawn a lot from jet lag and are cautious. After asking their ages, I realize they were ten and eleven years old when they left Afghanistan.

The Congo Family Refugees

As summer progresses the Congo family from a Burundi refugee camp is a joy to tutor and a mystery. During their first time to class, they have only been in the U.S. about 10 days. Trauma is evident in tense bodies, sad eyes, and the way they interact with one another. They speak mostly French and Swahili. I notice the depressed mother and 22-year-old daughter have several scars on their arms; the mother has scars across her throat. The son, about 21-years-old, seems healthy, but he misses classes because of sickness and doctor appointments.

From the start, they are A students. The daughter tells me she has seven brothers and sisters. About a month later, the daughter reports her three middle school brothers have arrived at the airport. Mom will not be coming to class anymore.

Cubans and Iraqi Refugees

My tutoring also includes a beefy mechanic from Cuba, who is interested in learning about the Craigslist classified jobs. A sad Cuban woman comes to class only twice—she is grieving the eight-year-old son she left behind with grandma for economic opportunities. She says it is never possible for her son to come to the U.S. I don’t know if this is true, but it is true for her at that moment.

Most of the refugees I meet are motivated to work and want to make lots of money. Sometimes they are disappointed they cannot have the jobs they dreamed about. In the case of the Iraqis, many are white collar professionals, who risked their lives to help the U.S. military. Now they must work at lower-paying jobs like valet parking, janitorial work, and housekeeping and restaurant services. Still, they are the fortunate ones who won the residential lottery.

Kevin and Vicki Witte with 12 of their Nepali friends, former refugees now settled in Colorado. (photo provided by Vicki Witte)
Kevin and Vicki Witte with some of their Nepali friends, former refugees now settled in Colorado. (photo provided by Vicki Witte) Find Vicki’s insightful blog at:

Is a Nickel Worth More Than a Dime?

World Relief offers a free study guide download and first chapter of this book at https://www.worldrelief.org/seekingrefuge

In class, students and teachers smile a lot and use hand gestures. I learn too.  For example, I never thought about how foreigners must discern that even though a dime is smaller than a nickel, its value is twice as much. Initially, they confuse a quarter with a nickel.

When we “read” 1:00 p.m. we say, “one o’clock”—not zero o’clock. Some of the refugees do not comprehend our mail system or banking, because they do not have access to these systems in their countries.

Running a Fever?

During one session Teacher Cameron goes over the basics of a health clinic and pharmacy. How can one understand what “running a fever” is, when one doesn’t speak or read English? Could they explain to a doctor such words as constipation or diarrhea. Will they give the proper dosage of medicine to a sick child? Will they accurately tell the doctor which body part hurts? So many daily culture actions we do automatically.

In my summer as an ESL tutor, my greatest reward was seeing several refugees become less stressed. Their body language became more relaxed, and there were genuine smiles and some joking. They all said they appreciated America’s safety.

Do You know the Difference Between “Refugee” and “Immigrant”?

I thought these nouns were interchangeable. Now I know an immigrant has more choices in migrating to another country.  Because of war or natural catastrophe, a refugee never goes “home.” Refugees, many who live for nine years in a camp, must wait for someone–some country–to adopt them. Sadly, children and women are not safe in many of these camps.

I learned the U.S. is one of the only countries that accepts refugees with health issues. In 2015, there were approximately 70,000 refugees per year admitted to the U.S.–this number was down from the 100,000 per year that came to the U.S. under President Clinton. The government decides which refugees to take and from which countries. Why some countries and not others? A refugee worker I heard answered, “Who knows? But it is no secret that the government doesn’t do anything for free.”

We can always do better. The question is, “What does that look like?” Our political system’s failure cannot be an excuse for doing less or nothing at all. “Who is my neighbor?” is a soul-searching question that dances with “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Each person must wrestle with the answers, and then hopefully do something to help, even if it is outside the comfort zone.

<><<

A Blog About Refugees

Friend Vicki Witte spends a lot of time helping refugees, and she blogs about it at:

https://stand4welcome.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/american-dream/

A Good Movie

Reese Witherspoon, starring as a social worker in "The Good Lie" movie greets three Sudanese refugees at a Kansas airport.
I recommend the movie The Good Lie, with Reese Witherspoon. Here, as a social worker, she greets Sudanese arrivals at a Kansas airport. Some of the actors are former refugees. Photo courtesy of Alcorn Entertainment/Warner Bros.

Graduation, Pilgrimage, Reunion

C.S. Boyll on graduation day, with parents Ben and Rosalie. The author is thankful they provided an opportunity they didn't have.
C.S. Boyll on TCU graduation day, with parents Ben and Rosalie. The author is grateful they provided an opportunity that they did not get to experience.

I am off on pilgrimage to a Texas Christian University reunion with friends I haven’t seen for decades. We were a tight group, who obviously had something special (since we’re spending time and money for this reunion). But some of us have had difficulty keeping connected–even Christmas cards fell away with best intentions. Now is an opportunity to get reacquainted in a fresh way–remembering, and sharing celebratory moments and battle scars.

Thinking of life as pilgrimage has been a constant for me. It still amazes how God teaches us with a rhythm of heartbeats and breaths, under sunrises and sunsets. One day at a time is plenty with its concerns, said Jesus in Matthew 6:34.

Below is a freshened excerpt of a former “There’s a Blog in My Eye post.” It is what I am thinking about while reflecting on TCU graduation, this reunion, and daily pilgrimage.

Imagine a California traveler journeying down a rocky path in the 1700s. It is the rainy season. He is cold and wet, hungry and thirsty, riding his mule for hours. Suddenly, in the darkness, he sees some flickering lights and hurries toward them. He knocks on the large mission door and is welcomed inside. Here is a place to rest, eat and drink, find encouragement and information–until he must travel again. The Camino de Real or King’s Highway was a pathway along the California coastline which connected some 21 missions for weary travelers. Each mission was a day’s journey of 30 miles from each other.  One can still visit many of these missions that stretch from San Diego to San Francisco.

Mission at Carmel's garden courtyard
Mission at Carmel, California (photo by CSB)

With a little faith we can stretch the Camino de Real into a metaphor for our life journeys. We’re on God’s road; his time table. The journey sometimes is easy with joy, but often difficult with tears. We press on.

I once heard poet Luci Shaw use the Camino de Real as a symbol for journaling. She suggested that daily, reflective writing can be mission respite from our work. It can refresh, encourage, and reveal insights we do not understand until we write them down. I have found this helpful, but journaling isn’t for every one. We each must discover what aids us best in traveling.

Recently, I discovered blogger D.L. Mayfield, a young woman who struggles with her vocation. Mayfield writes that she didn’t feel “called” to minister to the poor as much as she felt dragged. I appreciate her honest writing. She admits that she

D. L. Mayfield
Writer D.L. Mayfield

often feels helpless and overwhelmed by the hurts of others. She wonders if making Funfetti cakes for sad neighbors really is meaningful. But then she writes:

“…I feel like God said: you keep baking cakes. Some of the most unrecognized ministries are my favorites. Like, the ministry of playing yu-gi-oh cards with awkward adolescent boys. The ministry of bringing white styrofoam containers of Pad Thai to people whose baby is very, very sick. The ministry of picking up empty chip wrappers at the park. The ministry of sending postcards. The ministry of sitting in silence with someone in the psych ward. The ministry of gardening flowers….The ministry of noticing beauty everywhere–in fabrics, in people, in art–and in the wilderness.

“The older I get, I realize now that the ministries I once thought so trivial I now think are the most radical. I spent the last year being stripped of anything that would make me feel lovely to God, and I came out a different person. Because I discovered that he always loved me anyways. I’m not Joan of Arc, it turns out. I’m just somebody who likes to bake cakes.”

That’s D.L. Mayfield. With her I relate to small tasks transforming the trivial to the radical. Water turns into wine. Our work, our life journeys, the very essence of ourselves, matter to the One who keeps us. And if we believe this, our best works are done in response to the love that does not fail. In faith, and not alone, we keep traveling.

<><<

For a good armchair pilgrimage find the award-winning 2010 DVD The Way with Martin Sheen. The movie is about a grieving father embarking on the historical pilgrimage “The Way of St. James” in Spain.

Martin Sheen walks with walking stick and back pack against rolling, green hills and distant hazy mountains.
Martin Sheen does pilgrimage in The Way.

You can check out D.L. Mayfield at www.dlmayfield.com . Her new book of essays Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith is scheduled for release in August from HarperOne.