Natural disasters are keeping an arm of the Billy Graham ministries busy – and opening doors for staff and volunteers to share the gospel.
In recent weeks, hundreds of earthquakes have hit Puerto Rico, and a severe storm system spawned tornadoes and flooding in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and outlying states. Answering the cry for aid, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) has provided spiritual and tangible relief where those disasters killed at least a half dozen people and left hundreds of thousands without power.
Calming a Puerto Rican shakeup
On Sunday, a team of RRT chaplains will arrive in Puerto Rico to provide support in residents' time of need.
In addition to the 6.4-magnitude quake that hit Puerto Rico on January 7, hundreds of tremblers registering 2.5 or higher on the Richter Scale hit the Caribbean island over the last week, with more than 1,500 striking since the end of December, shaking the nerves of residents.
RRT assistant director Josh Holland says shaken Puerto Ricans haven't had a break in months.
"As the earthquakes and aftershocks continue, people in Puerto Rico are living in constant anxiety and fear about what might happen next," the ministry spokesman shared in a press release issued Tuesday by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). "We are sending a team of Spanish-speaking, crisis-trained chaplains to the island to provide emotional and spiritual care during this time."
Regardless of the intensity of the seismic activity, Holland testifies that nothing can take away the peace and comfort provided by God's unshakeable Word and promises.
"Psalm 46 says, 'God is our refuge and strength – a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the Earth gives way,'" Holland shared. "As the Earth is literally trembling on a daily basis in Puerto Rico, we pray that people will recognize their need for Christ, who is the rock, and know His love for them."
Nearly a third of the island has been covered by the Major Disaster Declaration that was issued for 25 counties by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but hundreds are being deployed to assist the thousands suffering as a result of the seemingly relentless seismic activity.
"The deployment to Puerto Rico comes on the heels of a Sharing Hope in Crisis seminar that the RRT held on the island Saturday, February 1," the press release states. "Nearly 600 people attended the eight-hour training intend to help prepare them for ministry in times of crisis."
Straightening a twisted turn of events
On February 6, more than 20 powerful tornadoes ripped through the Southeast from violent storm cells, triggering flooding that affected most of the Eastern Seaboard. Afterwards, RRT dispatched its team of chaplains to Spartanburg to provide emotional and spiritual care for victims.
At least five people were killed in the severe storms, which knocked out power to more than 300,000 people, according to The Weather Channel.
RRT international director Jack Munday said his team made a concerted effort to bring relief to the area in more ways than one.
"Following the storms and tornadoes that went through the southeast, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains were on the ground Friday in South Carolina, alongside Samaritan's Purse, assessing opportunities to serve those who have been impacted," Munday expressed in a separate release issued Saturday.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those whose homes have been damaged and destroyed and especially for those who have experienced great loss."
Spartanburg was ravaged by an EF-1 tornado that left a 10-mile trail of destruction, knocking out power for some 11,000 households throughout the city.
Since its inaugural mission to help after the Islamic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, RRT has turned into an international network of chaplains serving the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Its members have brought relief to more than 450 disaster sites around the world that have been ravaged by shootings, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and floods.
Photo credit: BillyGraham.org