Samaritan's Purse rebuild programs across the U.S. are tailored to bless residents in a personal way
When disasters strike, news stations explode with coverage while many organizations, including Samaritan’s Purse, quickly arrive on the scene to help.
But as time passes, the newscasts quiet down. After helping meet emergency needs and cleaning up debris, the volunteers leave.
But for many homeowners who have had their entire lives turned upside down, the pain remains fresh—especially when they don’t have a roof over their heads.
That is why Samaritan’s Purse often stays behind after the initial, emergency phase of a disaster response is over. When the need arises, we’ll establish a rebuild project so we can bless some who’ve lost nearly everything with a new home—free of charge.
An Answer to Prayer
For many homeowners, such a gift seems almost unbelievable. That’s what Will Hopkins thought.
His house was badly damaged by a tornado that hit central Oklahoma in May two years ago. Will was trying to make repairs himself, working on his home from paycheck to paycheck so his young family could move back in.When he was invited to apply for the rebuild program and then accepted, he said Samaritan’s Purse was an answer to prayer. He broke down in tears when he heard the news we would be repairing the rest of his house at no cost to him.
“Samaritan’s Purse kind of showed up. And they were like we’re going to be here to finish this house to the end, and I was just like, unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t believe they did that for us. This is weird to me because I’ve never experienced anyone doing this for people.”
For years, Samaritan’s Purse has helped families like Will’s get back into their homes. In 2014, we operated rebuild and reconstruction programs in Alaska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma.
We are still working in Oklahoma and New York, and recently opened new sites in Mississippi and Arkansas, where we responded to tornadoes last year.The rebuilds in both New Jersey and New York posed new challenges. Due to the severity of flooding following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, houses had to be raised off the ground. Otherwise, homeowners would be denied insurance.
Determined to help homeowners with nowhere else to turn, we did not shy away from the increased difficulty, cost, and time requirements and pushed ahead with the rebuilds.
Dianne Gahagan, the office manager and volunteer coordinator for the site in Nassau County, New York, said that while hurricane victims have been exceptionally grateful for their new homes, Samaritan’s Purse has done more than build houses. We’ve cultivated genuine relationships while showing the love of Christ, becoming a welcome part of the community.
“Homeowners are grateful that we are still here and many have commented on what a sad day it will be when Samaritan’s Purse leaves after the project is complete,” she said. “(They say) they would not be home without the help of Samaritan’s Purse.”
Through the rebuild projects, many have come to Christ, even in the Lowe’s parking lot while buying supplies, Dianne said.
Peace of Mind
It’s not just in the Mid-Atlantic where Samaritan’s Purse has paid extra attention to tailoring rebuilds to local needs. In Oklahoma, we provided in-ground storm shelters for homeowners living in “Tornado Alley.”
“It was not something I could ever be able to afford, and honestly on a list of priorities, it’s number one, especially after being in a tornado,” said 42-year-old JoAnn Zuluaga a homeowner who received one of the storm shelters after the EF-5 tornado that hit Moore in 2013 Moore damaged her home. “The relief is just something you can’t describe. It’s like having heat in the winter. This is tornado season. Now I have something so I won’t be scared about it.”
Reducing anxiety is a big priority for our rebuild ministry. Just like the storm shelters gave a sense of security to many in Oklahoma, our work in Galena, Alaska, brought peace of mind after a flood destroyed many homes in the 400-resident village.
While many people were given home kits by the government, rebuilding would take a lot of time and effort—especially with the nearest home improvement store around 300 miles away.
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers came in to help assemble the kits for homeowners who were struggling to find the time and additional resources.“There was a lot of tension coming in here,” said program manager Dan Burton. “The people of Galena were stressed.”
As our volunteers displayed Jesus’ love while working, the original iciness thawed to allow doors to open and God to work in the lives of homeowners.
“It’s been a great witness for the Gospel, and I think it’s made a lot of opportunities to share and love on people and pray for them,” Dan said. “Christians showing love [to] the community has made an impact. The level of gratefulness out here now is different than when we first got here.”
New Rebuilds Starting
As we continue our rebuild projects in 2015, we’re opening two more sites: one in Winston County, Mississippi, and one in Faulkner County, Arkansas—two places struck by tornadoes last year.
Our teams are already in these areas, showing compassion to homeowners running low on hope while giving the gift of a new home tailored for them.
“Samaritan’s Purse is … I don’t know how to explain it … but they are so full of love and you can just see God at work and living through them, and it has brought me closer to the Lord,” said Georgia Meyers, a 73-year-old resident of Oklahoma who received a new home from Samaritan’s Purse this year after a tornado damaged hers beyond repair. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel … such a beautiful light.”