Serving with Samaritan’s Purse in Panama City

Several months ago, Karen and I were approached by GFC to prayerfully consider being part of a new initiative to form a disaster recovery team in partnership with Samaritan’s Purse. The vision was cast to find those in the GFC body that would like to be part of this kind of outreach and then use opportunities that are nearby to get people trained by serving with Samaritan’s Purse on trips as they are available.

Last November, Karen and I served in New Bern, North Carolina following Hurricane Florence that struck their community in September 2018. Our experience with Samaritan’s Purse was so extraordinary in how we saw homeowners cared for and ministered to, that we felt certain that this partnership was the direction God had for us. This led to seeking and planning another opportunity to serve.

A few weeks ago on March 3, Eric Hollowell and Mike Plante met us at City Church in Panama City, Florida where Samaritan’s Purse had been set up since November following Hurricane Michael that came ashore in October 2018.  Monday morning after orientation, we joined several other volunteers to form a larger group that became our team, including a husband and wife counseling team from the Billy Graham Association assigned with us.

A typical day started around 6am in the dining facility at City Church, with volunteers scattered about reading their Bibles and enjoying coffee prior to breakfast. After breakfast, we had a short devotional before heading out to load trucks, get work assignments, and have the chaplains pray for our day. Once we reached the work site, we would meet the homeowner, gather around them in prayer, hear their story, and find out how we can help them that day. Before leaving, we would pray with them again and invite them to come have dinner with us back at City Church. A trip highlight is presenting the homeowner with a special Bible that each volunteer has signed, and perhaps shared a special note or scripture verse of encouragement.

Following the evening meal was sharing time, including introductions of homeowners and hearing homeowner stories, which always had many testimonies of divine appointments and evidence of God preparing the way for our arrival and time there.

What did we learn? All this mess is what is left of people’s lives after the storm. What looks like debris to us is what remains of the personal effects that make up the pages of their lives. We knew we were there to hear their stories and listen. One homeowner said to us before we left, “Thank you for listening to my story. I know from my own ministry in the jails how important it is to let a person tell their story, but until now, no one wanted to hear mine!”  This really challenged me to learn to listen, to be silent and not steal the focus. Clearly, God is using these disasters to bring Christian people around hurting people in need so that HE can deliver His love personally. It was said, “Everybody here is the answer to someone’s prayer!”

So, if you see one of us who went on the trip, please ask us to explain how this experience touched our hearts! Then, be watching for the next opportunity to serve with GFC and Samaritan’s Purse coming up in late June.

Michael Hatfield