Samaritan’s Purse is deploying to assist residents in eastern Tennessee
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Samaritan’s Purse is responding to the deadly wildfires that last week engulfed eastern Tennessee, including the resort cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
A Disaster Relief Unit, a tractor-trailer stocked with relief supplies, has been deployed to the area and will be based at First Baptist Church in Gatlinburg. The unit will serve as our command center.
“Families in Tennessee are reeling from this tremendous loss, and the wildfires continue to burn,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. “We want to share the love of Jesus Christ by coming alongside them and helping them sift through the ashes.”
Volunteers began work Friday. In the coming weeks, they will work in burned-out houses to help recover precious belongings and keepsakes from the charred remains.
On Friday, nearly 20 volunteers worked at the home of Mike Reed, who lost his wife, Constance, and two daughters to the wildfire. Among other items, they found a mug handle that said “#1 Mom”—a precious reminder for her son, 15-year-old Nichols. Volunteers will continue work at the homesite on Saturday.
On Monday, November 28, Mike Reed and Nichols knew the fire was getting close to their home, but they had no idea just how close. They left their house to see where the fire was, but the fire jumped over them and started to burn the mountain their home was on.
“[The mountain] went up like a match,” said Mike’s father, Grant.
Mike and Nichols tried to get back to their house, but the main way up was closed off because of the wildfire that was spreading rapidly. They tried to take the back way up to their house—driving over downed trees with soot falling on top of them and their tires beginning to melt.
Grant recounted that Mike thought the heat would melt him. Both Mike and Nichols thought they were going to die. They couldn’t make it back to their house, but miraculously they made it out alive.
Just four weeks prior to the fire, Constance gave her life to Christ.
“When she gave her heart to the Lord, she went around anointing everything,” Grant said.
She prayed over their house room by room and anointed it in the Name of Jesus. A few days later, she remembered she didn’t anoint their van so she went outside and anointed it with oil, praying over it too.
When Grant took the van to the shop to be repaired, the mechanic said the engine was hanging on by one bolt and the tires were melted. He too was shocked that Mike and Nichols made it out alive. Grant gives this credit to God and Constance’s specific prayers over their car.
“I know that’s how he made it—God was watching over him,” he said.
Now, the van is being repaired, and they plan to give it to a single mom with four children for Christmas. Constance’s life will continue to bless people. Even in the tragedy, the Reeds are helping others. Mike Reed found his daughter’s coat in the back of their van, and he gave it to his pastor, asking the pastor to give it to a child in need.
“All these unknown faces that will be touched by her story,” Grant said. “God has a plan. We have questions, and I’ll be the first person to ask them, but God has a plan.”
Crisis-trained chaplains with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rapid Response Team will also be ministering in the area, providing emotional and spiritual care to residents and first-responders.
Fueled by hurricane-force winds topping 90 mph, raging wildfires swept through the Great Smoky Mountains beginning November 28. Thousands of residents and tourists across Sevier County were immediately evacuated as firefighters fought the fast-moving blaze.
The historic Chimney Top and Cobbly Nob fires have killed 14 people, injured another 134, ravaged over 17,000 acres, and destroyed about 1,600 buildings—including churches and hundreds of homes. Emergency crews are still examining smoldering debris to find any other victims.
Gatlinburg is planning to reopen for business on Friday. Residents have been able to slowly return to the area and view the status of their homes, but a dawn-to-dusk curfew has been in effect.
Please pray for wisdom as we work with emergency management officials and ministry partners in Gatlinburg to determine how we can best assist homeowners in Jesus’ Name and show them His compassion.