By Nikki Roberti Miller, Samaritan’s Purse writer
It was the end of a long, rainy day following volunteers as they worked on homes affected by the tornado that hit Calhoun, Georgia, in February. I had just crawled into my sleeping bag after covering my first disaster with Samaritan’s Purse when my roommate at the host church, Dee, started chatting with me before we called it a night.
Dee spoke of her best disaster relief friend, Brie, and how she couldn’t make it to Calhoun this time because she was up in New York helping out with Hurricane Sandy victims. They originally met at a Samaritan’s Purse relief site as volunteers and always seemed to run into each other whenever disaster struck. Apparently whenever they work in the same area, they’re quite the dynamic duo.
In fact, their friendship nickname sounds like “debris,” which is a play on words they find entirely hilarious and charming.
It was evident this wasn’t Dee’s first time volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse. In fact, she had been all over the country helping out those in need when a disaster struck. What was even more interesting, though, was how tightly knit she described the Samaritan’s Purse volunteering community.
It was more than the funny nickname other volunteers gave the two friends. It was more than just recognizing someone they had served with at a different site in a different state and showing camaraderie. There was a feeling of family among the group of volunteers who stayed at the host church— a feeling that is amazing to find in a room of genuine strangers from all over the country.
Sure, everywhere Samaritan’s Purse goes there are new people who join in for a day or two, or for a week. But there is a group of people who are always on standby, waiting for the call when volunteers are needed to help take care of victims in the midst of tragedy.
You would think that perhaps, after seeing all the pain and destruction that is all over the country year after year, a regular volunteer would be disheartened or discouraged. Not Dee.
In fact, every volunteer I met who were regulars found joy in EVERY moment of every day, even when it was raining. From sun up to sun down, these people were laughing and smiling, acting like long lost friends reuniting at summer camp.
When I talked to another man who had been volunteering with his wife for years and had travelled from multiple states away, I asked him what his favorite part about volunteering was. His answer?
He laughed and his wife gave him a knowing look as she lightly smacked him on the shoulder with a frantic, “Don’t say that!”
But his answer only confirmed the summer camp-like feeling I had picked up on by spending a couple of days with the disaster volunteers at the church.
These people work together, share tight quarters together on church floors, and share meals that are both provided by a Samaritan’s Purse cook and sometimes by local community members.
And at the very end of the day after a very good meal, they all share about their experiences from that day’s work. They take turns recounting moving stories about how God is working in the lives of the victims and even in their own lives by just being there. They share the miraculous work of God that can only be witnessed in the field while someone is literally being the hands and feet of Christ.
At the end of one meal, which was honestly the largest potluck I had ever seen, provided by members of a Baptist church, we all held hands around the room in one big circle while the church members sang us a song and prayed.
But as they said “amen” and prepared for the next day of work, still laughing and being each other’s family, I realized that what these people had was special and something many only dream of finding.
This was more than just a summer camp-like experience. This was the body of Christ uniting as the family we were always intended to be.