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
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.
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.
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.
Was I scared? Yes, a little bit. I was uncertain I would last the week.
Did God show up? Yes. He was right there.
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.
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!]
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.
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.
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.
Would I do it again? Yes, my two blue shirts are clean and folded in the suitcase with the air mattress.
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/