The tables were turned – at least the breakfast table – one day last week as the community served the staff and volunteers of Samaritan’s Purse who have been in Jacksonville since a tornado ravaged the city March 19.
According to Randy Corn, a Samaritan’s Purse program manager from Boone, N.C., officials from the organization had been watching reports from Alabama leading up to the tornado. Part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan’s Purse monitors national and international developing disasters and other issues that warrant the skills and talents of experienced rapid response teams.
Corn said the decision to deploy to Jacksonville was made shortly after the tornadoes had ravaged parts of Calhoun and Etowah counties.
A second Samaritan’s Purse team was deployed to Southside.
The team rolled into Jacksonville bringing enough equipment and supplies that the staff and volunteers would be mostly self-sufficient. They arrived in large trucks pulling trailers that contained a kitchen, another trailer had sleeping quarters, and yet another trailer had showers. Some of the equipment was pre-positioned in the storage facility near Atlanta.
In addition to the volunteers in Jacksonville that came from various locations in Alabama, the Samaritan’s Purse team included volunteers from Maine, New York, California, and Oregon. A survey of vehicles in the church parking lot noted tags from Louisiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and South Carolina.
Corn’s statistics after 15 days of storm recovery efforts are impressive. His team has processed more than 190 work orders helping residents cut trees and clear debris. They have also worked inside homes that are still structurally safe. Their objective, Corn said, is to complete jobs better than a contractor would with the idea that their work would be better than what they would do for themselves.
Corn’s team has registered more than 600 different volunteers, averaging some 50 people every day. Altogether, they have accounted for more than 7,000 volunteer hours worked and at least 14 people have professed their decision to accept Christ as their personal Savior.
The Samaritan’s Purse team had an opportunity last week to catch their breath and a break on their 15th day. That day last week breakfast for the entire team was provided by members of a very grateful community.
Cpl. Trey Bishop is a city police officer assigned to the first shift. Much of his duty time since the tornado has been at a traffic control point at Church Avenue and Seventh Street, in front of the First Baptist Church. From his vantage point, he has witnessed Samaritan’s Purse operations in the church parking lot.
Bishop was impressed.
“I felt I had a Divine inspiration,” he said. “God put it on my heart we should do something.”
Using social media, Bishop made a suggestion to the community that Jacksonville could serve the Samaritan’s Purse servants’ breakfast.
Shortly after posting his idea, Bishop had enough donated money to buy breakfast from Nick’s Place on the Square, a restaurant many still know as Roma’s. Last week, Jack Limberis was up early, in the kitchen, and he prepared enough scrambled eggs, bacon, and French toast to feed all of Corn’s team.
Bishop said more than enough money was donated by people in and around Jacksonville to buy breakfast. The extra money, more than $1,600, was then presented to Corn to help the organization restock their supplies and prepare for another, future disaster deployment.
It is no coincidence that Samaritan’s Purse was able to find a welcoming base of operations at First Baptist Church. The church is part of the Lighthouse network, which gives it a ministerial relationship with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Besides opening its doors to Corn and his team, members of the church have also supported the team as additional volunteers, they have laundered work clothes, and they have helped prepare meals in the kitchen.
“The entire church went out with us,” Corn said. “The church left the building and they ministered to the community. Samaritan’s Purse provides physical help and emotional care. The quality of our work is the platform of our witness. We are the hands and feet of Christ.”
In addition to the work, the prayers, and the witness of Samaritan’s Purse staff and volunteers, they also give a Billy Graham training Bible to the people they have helped. The Bible is signed by the volunteers before they move on to the next assignment.
Corn has been a program manager with Samaritan’s Purse for three years. He has deployed many times. While each disaster has its own rewards, Corn says the Jacksonville community, to include the city’s police and fire departments, has been very special. The breakfast the community provided last week is a memory he will treasure for a long time.
According to its website, Samaritan›s Purse (www.samaritanspurse.org/) is a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. For more than 40 years, 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.