Evangelist Franklin Graham and the disaster relief organization Samaritan’s Purse served a hot, free meal to over 1,500 people who were affected by the recent tornadoes in Mayfield, Kentucky, joined by country music legend Ricky Skaggs who sang Christmas songs.
“No matter what storms you face in life, God loves you,” Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, told the crowd eating lunch at Graves County High School on Christmas Eve, about two weeks after 76 people died when four tornadoes struck the state on Dec. 10.
“Jesus Christ will never leave you or forsake you,” added Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham.
The Evangelical group Samaritan’s Purse, which has aided those impacted by the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and global conflicts, earlier this month launched its relief operations in Kentucky and five other states that were impacted by the deadly tornadoes.
In Mayfield, much of which was destroyed, officials say at least 22 people died, including nine when a candle factory collapsed and trapped dozens. Samaritan’s Purse had sent dozens of staff and three cooking trailers to Mayfield to prepare the free hot meals on Christmas Eve.
“Families literally lost everything just before Christmas, and knowing that Christmas would be different, we knew that we couldn’t replace things or fix it right away, but we knew we could love them in the midst of their pain,” Kendra Bandy, Samaritan’s Purse's podcast production manager, said in a podcast on the organization’s website. “So we wanted to bring some joy to this community.”
The group has mobilized more than 2,000 volunteers who've helped over 400 families affected by the tornadoes in Kentucky and northeast Arkansas. Helping alongside are crisis-trained chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rapid Response Team to provide emotional support and share the love of Christ.
A podcast team member named Melissa and Andy Jeter, the charity’s director of food services, shared their thoughts on the Christmas Eve lunch.
“We work for someone who is an incredible visionary. … Franklin Graham, he surprises us with these plans sometimes,” Melissa shared. “But [Graham] just has a vision for helping these people and he knew that they would be hurting, that people would not have the same kind of Christmas that they normally would and so it was just something that the Lord put on his heart to do.”
Jeter added, “We talked to Franklin, and we didn’t know at that time what the number would be, but very soon, he made that evident that he was thinking big, which we like, but now we’ve got the fun part of figuring out the logistics of that and working through details and getting food procured.”