(Photo: Billy Graham Rapid Response Team)
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT), in conjunction with Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse, is one of the organizations providing support on the ground to victims of last week's tornado disaster – but the recovery aid they provide is of a spiritual kind.
While many other organizations focus on rebuilding homes and clearing roads after tornadoes hit four U.S states hard last week, the RRT deploys chaplains to speak with and provide support to families of those who have lost loved ones or their homes. Deadly storms ripped through the Midwest and South late last week and left at least three dozen people dead in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Alabama.
Founded in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the RRT has ministered to over 110,000 people around the world. Its outreach efforts are expanding to various countries around the world, but it is also one of the main sources for spiritual comfort for victims of disasters in the U.S. Since 2002, it has responded to more than 125 natural and man-made disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and shootings.
In each of the five cities of Harrisburg, Ill.; Madison, Ind.; Henryville, Ind.; West Liberty, Ky.; and Charlotte, N.C, the RRT was deployed alongside disaster response ministry Samaritan's Purse to help meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of survivors.
Speaking with The Christian Post Wednesday, Keith Stiles, the RRT deployment manager, explained that Samaritan's Purse works with a number of church volunteers under its umbrella, and workers go in with trucks and trailers and chainsaws to cut down and remove trees and debris.
"They help with the work crews. While they are doing that, our chaplains are meeting with the home owners, and are trying to figure out what else can be done to help them," Stiles said.
"We are seeing where they are in their struggles, we are letting them know that we care about them, and that Jesus loves them. We want to help them get through the struggle – we are there to pray for them, to minister to them, and help them if they need to contact a church or other support networks in the area. We work with them to try and repair the grief they are going through," he added, addressing RRT's primary purpose.
The deployment manager also shared that the response chaplains generally get is that people start looking at life from a different perspective – an eternal one.
"Where they were previously caught up in the business of daily life, living life day by day with no thought of eternity – now they have been faced with the fragility of life, and how life can be turned in a moment," Stiles commented.
Stiles continued, "A lot of the times we go in expecting people to be angry, and asking why God allowed this, or why didn't God stop this – but we really don't get that a lot. They are thankful for what is left, they are thankful that God spared their life, they are thankful that God left them their photo album or something. And so, we are not finding people who are angry or upset. We are finding people who are searching. Frequently they have a problem in their life that they never addressed before, but now they want to.
"It gives us an opportunity to explain how much God loves them, how much God cares and has a plan for their life. It allows them to loosen the grip on this life and look to the promises the Lord has made to them."
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team largely depends on donations to keep its spiritual support ministry going. Statistics on its website show that close to 90 percent of its operational expenses for 2010 came from contributions.