International relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse began more than 40 years ago. Taking their name from the scriptural story told in the Bible, (Luke 10) the group was born with the purpose of lending aid to the poor, sick and suffering. Samaritan’s Purse Mission Statement says: “…a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Samaritan’s Purse recently affiliated with the long-standing Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Franklin Graham, son of Billy and Ruth Graham, is the president and CEO of both entities.
Brent Graybeal, site manager, hit the ground running just a few days after the Little Bear Fire grew in uncontrolled rage. The morning following his arrival found Graybeal at a county-wide cooperator’s meeting, introducing himself and Samaritan’s Purse to the community. “We look for and require an invitation to assist after a disaster,” says Graybeal, who became quickly acquainted with Lincoln County leaders. “When I met Nita Taylor (Lincoln County manager) and explained our presence, she quickly extended an invitation to help the community. We’ve been here since then.”
“After the invitation is extended, we arrange for full deployment and a home base.” Graybeal says it took six days for a team to be assembled, which gave time for safety issues to be managed. Angus Church offered to be the home for Samaritan’s Purse during their stay. “Angus Church and Bonita Park have been wonderful to work with. We usually offer payment to help with added utility costs for the facilities which offer to host us. Both the camp and the church refused our help and have given us space as their gift.” Angus Church and Bonita Park are located near one of the areas most affected by the Little Bear and provided an accessible place for the large vehicles and staff Samaritan’s Purse requires.
Graybeal explains there are very few salaried or paid positions at disaster sites. He has been the only paid staff who assisted the Little Bear recovery effort. Volunteer coordinators, office managers, cooks, tool managers, team leaders, site assessors are all volunteer positions within the organization.
Employed as a county planner in North Carolina for more than 19 years, Graybeal brought extensive background preparation for his current responsibilities.
Graybeal was on site for several weeks and stayed until Samaritan’s Purse was no longer needed. It means he missed his six year old son’s birthday and his wedding anniversary. His wife and two sons are supportive of Graybeal’s deployment. “This is the longest deployment I’ve been on,” says Graybeal. His family knows he’s just a phone call away but it takes a family commitment to make his position effective.
After they have signed up with the organization and have been cleared, volunteers are given the option of choosing how far they will travel when assistance is needed. References are required, and volunteers fund their own travel. They come from across the nation to assist. When they arrive, a place to sleep and three meals a day are offered. The Little Bear team members stayed at Angus Church and Bonita Park as their home base. A six-stall shower trailer was driven to the site and an office/supply trailer was provided by Samaritan’s Purse. Food was purchased by the organization and prepared by volunteers who remain at Angus Church while others dug through rubble, sift ashes and remove debris.
Volunteers who travel from across the nation stay as long as each one can. Whether it is a week or merely a few days, the system remains the same at each disaster, providing very little need for acclimation at each site. It’s a well-oiled machine.
Local residents are encouraged to join those who are deployed giving both sides an opportunity to meet new friends and participate in recovery efforts. Arriving in the morning, adults are required to sign a volunteer release and waiver form and are given a brief orientation. Orange shirts are offered as well as prayer, personal protective equipment and information about site safety. Sack lunches are provided and teams leave home base ready for work. Many times, a new Bible is offered by volunteers to those affected by disaster as part of the healing process.
After a long day of work, volunteers arrive back to the home site ready for a hearty meal. Following the meal is “share time” when volunteers speak about the day they’ve just experienced.
“Today we were able to give a homeowner a ring and some jewelry we found in the ashes. He told us in the course of the last two years his wife died of breast cancer, and his father died as well. He added that his house burned to the ground the same day as the death of his father in law. We were so glad we were able to give him back a small reminder of his wife.” Volunteers share poignant moments of their day, and report it’s one of their favorite moments of deployment.
Graybeal uses a special scripture from Hebrews 12 as his life’s goal. “It speaks about running the race set before us with endurance. I was raised up in a church and know there are those who are cheering me on. I’ll stay here until the job is finished.”
For more information about the organization or volunteer opportunities, visit SamaritansPurse.org.