Samaritan's Purse disaster relief volunteers gather at a retreat to rest and sharpen their skills before going out again to serve
When a disaster strikes, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers always spring into action. Countless people sacrifice their time to travel across the United States at a moments notice so they can be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, whether it’s removing fallen debris off damaged houses, cleaning out a flooded home, or covering the homeowner in love and prayer.
The work exhilarates them. It brings them joy. And it can get exhausting.
That’s why Samaritan’s Purse hosts an annual retreat to offer training to strengthen our volunteers’ skills while also providing an atmosphere of rest and renewal to prepare them for future responses.
This year’s retreat was held at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina, the first first weekend in June. Disaster relief staff, volunteers, and potential future volunteers were treated to inspirational speakers such as Will Graham, Pastor Jim Henry, and Dr. Richard Blackaby.
“I call it the cruise ship in the mountains,” said Leslie Meinin of Spring, Texas, who serves as a team leader and assessor on multiple disasters each year. “Being on a disaster is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. It’s so fast. And this is a time to slow down, listen to God, and remember why you’re here.”
Leslie said that along with the amazing speakers and classes, she enjoys reconnecting with the many friends she makes while volunteering. She said her fellow volunteers are more like family.
As volunteers both young and old gathered for the retreat from all over the country, people were able to develop new friendships too.
Carmen Maggi Thomsoboro from Maryland and Dilma Walls of Georgia became instant friends while standing line at dinner the first night of the conference. The two women discovered they both were native Puerto Ricans and enjoyed speaking in Spanish with one another while sharing their passion for disaster relief.
“It’s amazing,” Carmen said. “It was definitely a divine appointment.”
Dilma is considering joining our site management team—the volunteers who commit to leadership roles and plan to stay on a disaster site for at least three weeks—and was able to discuss it with Carmen. Dilma’s last team leader recommended that she look into it after she served during the ice storm in Augusta, Georgia. But Dilma felt a bit of trepidation regarding the commitment, and said she hoped she’d receive God’s clear direction during her stay.
“I came because I wanted to see people I haven’t seen in awhile and also because it’s peaceful, especially when life can get hectic,” Dilma said. “But I also came to see if I God wants me to be a part of this more and to see if it’s something I can do.”
There were sessions for veteran volunteers as well. Dennis Robinson of Durham, North Carolina, has attended the retreat all six years it’s existed and said he plans to keep coming back for more. He particularly enjoyed the session called “Care for the Caregiver” by Dr. Jonathan Olford, which taught the volunteers how to take care of their own emotional and spiritual state while serving others.
“It’s just another awareness that if you get desensitized, it’s a red flag,” Dennis said. “[I’m here to be] reenergized, refreshed, and renewed…because if I’m not refreshed, then I’m useless.”
After attending the session, “Is SMT for Me,” Dilma felt a confirmation in her spirit that she should take the next step of faith as a team leader. She found out she needed to volunteer on one more overnight disaster response to qualify, so she quickly made arrangements for travel after the conference.
“It looks like I’m going to Pensacola,” Dilma said with a smile. “I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Our flood response in Pensacola, Florida, is still ongoing with more than eight homeowners still in need of help. So far, our volunteers have led 75 people to Christ as a result of their work mudding out houses and spraying for mold. Many volunteers planned on leaving the conference to join their fellow workers out on the field, but the need is still great.
If you’ve never done so, please consider working with Samaritan’s Purse in the area of disaster relief. Not only will you be helping people in Jesus’ Name, but you’ll also become a member of a close-knit family of fellow Christians.