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/

Discovering a Stellar Poet: Malcolm Guite

I discovered Malcolm Guite this week and am excited to learn more about the Anglican troubadour, priest, and poet.  Poetry, in its leanness, offers so much wisdom (just like the Psalms and Proverbs). Here, is one of Guite’s Advent sonnets, that is part of a collection. I hope you enjoy reading and thinking of different metaphors for Jesus on a contemplative winter’s day. Sapientia means wisdom in Latin.

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite’s quote reads, “In the end nothing is secular but everything, even the smallest and most ordinary things, can be lifted up into the light of Christ and transfigured.”

An Advent Sonnet for Anytime

O Sapientia  by Malcolm Guite

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

More of Malcolm Guite

Here is more of Malcolm: https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com

photo by CSB
photo by CSB

Robert “Burns Supper”–Bag Pipers, Highland Dancers, Haggis

Have you heard of a Burns Supper? I was invited to one this month and was privileged to take in the Scottish tradition of honoring bard Robert Burns.

Robert Burns portrait
Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait in public domain

 

The annual supper, going strong for 200-plus years, occurs worldwide around Burns’ January 25 birthday. It’s a great excuse for Scottish folk to come together and celebrate their culture and poet. The supper’s festivities may include kilted bagpipers, Highland dancers, poetry, whiskey toasts, and haggis. What’s not to like?

What is Haggis?

You may ask, “What is haggis?” Robert Burns, although a poet, was also a farmer. Sensible country folk know that on the farm when one butchers an animal, such as a sheep, one utilizes everything

Server carries honored guest "haggis."
Server carries honored guest “the haggis.”

except the baaaa. Haggis is a Scottish sausage made from sheep’s stomach stuffed with diced sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet, and seasoning. It’s cousin is scrapple, made with cornmeal and pork scraps and enjoyed in the Mid-Atlantic states. 

Burns appreciated Haggis so much he wrote “Ode to a Haggis.” Here’s the last verse in English:

You Powers who look after mankind,

And dish out his bill of fare,

Old Scotland wants no watery, wimpy stuff

That splashes about in little wooden bowls!

But, if You will grant her a grateful prayer,

Give her a Haggis!

No Watery, Wimpy Stuff!

A somber kilted gentleman leads the haggis march.
Burns Supper is serious business.

Because of this epicurean fondness, at a Burns Supper, the haggis is the first course brought in with pomp and circumstance—bag pipers and drummers escort the meat held high on a platter to a center table. A kilted Scotsman addresses the haggis, reciting Burns’ poem. Theatrics may include a drawn knife that hacks a thistle (from a vase) and then plunges into the meat.

Drummer leads the server carrying the haggis.
Here it comes to a drummer’s tap-tap.

Two drummers twirl their sticks.

Diners are served thin haggis slices with mashed potatoes. The rest of the meal is more common banquet fare such as salad, salmon, polenta, roasted carrots, and cake.

Upstanding Whiskey Toasts

I don’t recall ever tasting whiskey until this past month. The warm liquor gets a thumbs up along with the haggis. A wee amount of whiskey is served to each guest. Diners rise “upstanding” and do five toasts with some light-hearted speeches thrown in. At my Burns Supper there were toasts to: the U.S. President, the Queen, “The Immortal Memory” of Burns, “The Lassies,” and finally “The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies.”

Burns did love his lassies. He had several illegitimate children with several women and nine children with his wife Jean Armour. While he farmed with his father and brother, Burns composed rough drafts of his poems without paper. With encouragement from his friends and in need of supporting his family, Burns published Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect to great success. Following, he wrote and helped collect many of Scotland’s folk songs into several volumes. Unfortunately, poor health resulted in his death at age 37.

You May Know Poems by Burns

After being invited to a Burns Supper,  I vaguely remembered as a student reading a few Burns’ poems like “To a Louse.” This poem is the one where Burns observes a louse on a pious woman’s bonnet during a church service.

That famous line: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men” comes from Burns’ poem “To a Mouse,” after he accidentally destroyed the mouse’s winter home with a plow.

Burns’ poem “Auld Lang Syne” (For Old Time’s Sake) has given me my word for 2017: “kindness.” At Burns Suppers people sing this song in closing as they often hold crossed hands. Kindness is a good word to remember as we plunge farther into this topsy-turvy year.

Four children sing "For Auld Lang Syne"
Kindness For Auld Lang Syne

A “We Can Eat” Prayer

Burns Suppers often include the recitation of this meal prayer, which has 17th century roots. Tradition says Burns recited this prayer while attending a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk.

Selkirk Grace (1)

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
[The last line is often varied to read]
And sae the Lord be thankit

Selkirk Grace (2)

Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.

Below are links to explore Robert Burns’ poetry and a five-minute rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poets/robert-burns