We’re in a day where the phrase we live in a world of uncertainty has never been more true,” said Jack Munday, international director for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT). “In 2016 our orders expanded into other countries as a result of terror and suffering.”
Since its inception in 2001, RRT deployments have increased year over year, with deployments due to man-made disasters increasing by 25 percent each year. Here are a few stories of how God worked through man-made and natural disasters through this ministry of presence during the last quarter of 2016.
Piercing the Darkness
Sitting at his desk at the BGEA headquarters on Dec. 19, Jeff Naber’s heart sank as he watched the news unfold about a truck plowing through the Berlin Christmas market, killing 12.
“I had felt in my heart there would be something else in Europe by the year’s end,” said Naber, manager for chaplain development and ministry relations for the RRT.
The next day Naber was on a Germany-bound plane to minister in the wake of the attack. Over the coming days, several more chaplains joined him on the ground in Berlin—including a German-speaking couple from Calgary, Harvey and Selma Boldt.
The attack site sat adjacent to Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, bombed during World War II. A Lutheran church also stood behind it.
“Despite the church buildings surrounding the area, Berlin is a spiritually dark and needy place,” Naber said.
As he and the Boldts walked the streets of Berlin, approaching people and starting conversations, Naber grew discouraged. Although he had a fruitful conversation with one man, in general the interaction seemed to drop off.
“I just thought to myself, nobody’s getting it,” Naber said. “By dark, I was feeling gloomy.”
That’s just when the Light pierced the darkness.
Naber heard a violin and followed the sound. As it turned out, the music came from where the truck plowed through the Christmas Market. Under the canopy a woman played a violin while a man set up a keyboard. Out of seemingly nowhere, an African-American man emerged from the crowd that had begun to gather around the musicians. He turned around and said—in English—“My name is Kirk and I’m going to sing for you.”
He started singing “Amazing Grace.”
Kirk Smith—the singer—is from Chicago and had lived in Germany for several years doing ministry, trying to pierce the spiritual darkness with the Light of Jesus.
Hearing him sing was just the encouragement Naber needed.
“God always surprises me when I’m doing this type of ministry on the street. Am I really doing any good? Am I valuable to the Kingdom? Even if all we did was plant seeds, the mission was accomplished.”
A Spark of Hope in Tennessee
For RRT chaplain coordinator Al New, an early December fire in Tennessee hit close to home in more ways than one. He lives only an hour away from Gatlinburg, which experienced extensive damage. And before he was a chaplain, he was a firefighter paramedic.
“Just riding through, talking with the locals drove it home that we take life for granted. And we take our livelihoods for granted,” he said.
Hundreds of structures, including many homes, were destroyed, and 14 lives were lost. The local economy, based primarily on tourism, has been shut down.
Resident Mike Reed’s wife and two daughters perished in the fire at their home. These losses made the news, but no one could find Reed—until the day New and some other chaplains stopped for breakfast.
Having seen RRT signs on car doors in the restaurant parking lot, a man approached New and asked if he was with BGEA.
He identified himself as Mike Reed’s father and asked if some chaplains could visit Mike. When they arrived at the elder Reed’s home, Mike and his son were there, heavily burdened and grieved. The visit lasted around an hour and the chaplains were able to offer Mike sympathy, encouragement and prayer.
New was reminded of God’s sovereignty over RRT ministry efforts: “We just have to trust God to lead and let Him open the doors He wants to open.”
Spiritual Battles in Oakland
The same week of the Tennessee wildfire, a warehouse fire broke out in Oakland, Calif., killing 36 people.
When chaplains Phil and Pam Rhodes arrived at the scene the Sunday following the Friday, Dec. 3 fire, they knew this was a deployment unlike any other.
For one, they had never deployed to such an urban setting. The scene of the fire was cordoned off to within a couple of city blocks. Secondly, they had not been on a deployment where so much diversity—which lends itself to a variety of belief systems—was present.
There was, however, one young man of about 20 years old who stood out to Pam. He came near the memorial and had what appeared to be incense in his hand. “He looked sad and overwhelmed,” she remembered.
She approached him and asked if he knew someone in the fire. It turned out he wasn’t from the area, but felt the need to come. When Pam explained she wasn’t from the area either, but came to share the hope she has in Christ, he seemed interested.
Walking through the Steps to Peace brochure—a Gospel-sharing tool published by BGEA—she began to see a spiritual fog lift from the man’s eyes.
“God saved him right there,” Pam said. “Then he told me, ‘I’ve been trying to help my friend. Can I have another one of those booklets for him?’
“God longs to see people saved. He has called the church to go out and be witnesses. This deployment has increased my desire to pray for the lost and to take more opportunities to share Jesus.”