(Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
After nearly two years of serving in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team is completing the mission and chaplains are set to come home, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reported Wednesday.
More than 120 chaplains spent 22 months in the devastated country, after arriving in Haiti immediately following the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. Chaplains typically stayed for two-week periods and were rotated in and out regularly, said Keith Stiles, deployment manager of the Rapid Response Team.
“We were in clinics, orphanages and school. We worked with Samaritan’s Purse at the shelters … we ministered to Samaritan’s Purse volunteers in the camps at night,” said Stiles.
The disaster in Haiti cost more than 300,000 lives and wiped out the country. Aftershocks were reported for days. Yet the Christian Haitians didn’t despair, Stiles said.
“One of the things that we’ve learned is the Christian Haitians’ strong faith in Jesus,” he said. “They don’t let the trials and tribulations of this world diminish their faith.”
During deployment, chaplains prayed, comforted and handed out Bibles to 35,420 Haitians.
“While we were there, we had the opportunity to work with the Haitians to adopt a new way of life,” Stiles said.
“We have witnessed the best and the worst that this world has to offer as we’ve ministered in Haiti,” said Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in a statement. “We’ve seen pain and grief on an unimaginably massive scale, and we’ve seen beauty, hope and joy in the spirits of the Haitian people that defies all explanation in the midst of such a hard place.”
Because the physical damages caused an ongoing emotional and spiritual toll, Stiles said the relief effort was more than just the cleanup.
“It was a many-pronged approach,” he said, mentioning ongoing BGEA ministries in Haiti. This includes the Franklin Graham festival, in January, a My Hope World Evangelism Through Television program and the educational program The Greatest Journey. “It was an … approach that continued – and continues – to minister to the Haitian people.”
The deployment to Haiti was the second-longest outreach in the history of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, chaplains immediately deployed to the Gulf Coast and remained there until March 14, 2008. In that effort, more than 260 chaplains were deployed and there were more than 480 professions of faith.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team is a nationwide network of chaplains across 44 states that are specifically trained to deal with crisis situations. Since the ministry was launched in 2002, it has responded to more than 120 natural and man-made disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and shootings. The most recent response effort was to a tornado in North Carolina.
“We’re always on the move. We’re always looking for another opportunity to deploy,” said Stiles.