Helping Strangers

October 23, 2015 • United States
Helping Strangers

Volunteers from across the country assist residents of South Carolina after massive flooding

Richard Greene is a staff writer with Samaritan’s Purse. Recently, he traveled to South Carolina to cover our flood relief.

Reading over notes while walking through a hotel lobby was not a smart move on my part. Suffering from jet lag, I had just arrived in Fortaleza, Brazil, to help cover Franklin Graham’s Festival. I wasn’t paying close attention to what I was doing as I stepped onto what I thought was a stone walkway up into another section of the lobby. Instead, I landed in a shallow “moat,” making a huge splash and getting both feet royally soaked.

Later that evening, I dried my sneakers with a hair dryer. My mind wandered to my visit to Columbia, South Carolina, the week before. Columbia was especially hard hit by epic rains. I thought about the story I heard of an elderly homeowner who opened her first-floor window and dove into raging floodwaters, thinking she could still swim at the age of 84 and save herself. Instead she grabbed a railing and hung on for dear life as she cried out to a neighbor. That neighbor rescued her by boat. Just up the street, a firefighter pulled an 87-year-old woman to safety.

15106US USDR South Carolina Flooding

Other homeowners throughout Columbia had similar high-drama stories of wading through neck-high waters or being pushed through chest-deep torrents in a wheelchair. My pitiful dousing was a mere inconvenience. Theirs was life threatening.

My one-week trip to Columbia was my first onsite reporting assignment with Samaritan’s Purse U.S. Disaster Relief. Before joining Samaritan’s Purse, I had served 15 years with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. As I spent time with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains, who provide emotional and spiritual care, I got to witness the work of Samaritan’s Purse from a distance. During natural disasters, the blue-shirted chaplains minister side-by-side with the orange-clad Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. Together, they show and share the compassion of Jesus Christ.

In South Carolina’s capital city, I had the privilege of watching the Samaritan’s Purse team up close. Led by the Spirit, they came from across the country to serve in Jesus’ Name. They invested their time and talents to help homeowners go through and pack up what personal belongings they could still salvage. They helped take out to the curb what couldn’t be saved. These servants then tackled the arduous task of ripping out waterlogged walls and flooring, helping prepare the homes for future rebuilds.

There were church groups, high school and college students, young adults, and retirees. They were mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, husbands, and wives working in unity. When the moment was right, they put down their tools and came alongside the homeowner to pray, to speak a word of encouragement, or to lend a shoulder to cry on.

“I’m overwhelmed by the number of volunteers who gave up not a weekend to come but who came in the middle of the week,” said Katie, the daughter of a homeowner. “They have jobs and families. But they’re down here helping complete strangers.”

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John Corn drove 100 miles with his daughter to help fellow South Carolinians in need.

“I thank the Lord I have the opportunity and the health to come these days,” he said.

Originally from Connecticut, Kathleen Watson moved to Columbia to attend Columbia International University.

“I thought I was going to do missions overseas, but God changed my path,” she said. “I get to do missions right here in Columbia.”

In her senior year at high school in Greensboro, Becca Gold said she couldn’t think of a better way to spend her fall break.

15106US USDR South Carolina Flooding

“I could be sitting on the couch watching Netflix, but after this storm, I decided that I should come down and do something constructive with my life,” she said.

And God blessed all of their efforts. Not only was the physical work accomplished, but also, even more importantly, the Lord saw to it that spiritual ministry took place—in Columbia, in northern Charleston, and in Andrews, where Samaritan’s Purse will soon set up a third base of operation.

Bruce and Bob, volunteer assessors for Samaritan’s Purse, were in an area outside of Andrews when they saw a lady sitting on a bucket staring at the water still covering her driveway. They stopped to talk, and the Lord opened the door for them to share the Gospel.

The woman was ready to hear and to respond. Bob led her through the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, and she accepted Him as her Savior. Then Bob and Bruce wrote a work order for her and two of her neighbors. Only God could do that—and He deserves all the praise.