Chaplains Share Hope with St. Thomas Evacuees in Miami

By   •   October 4, 2017

Rapid Response Team chaplains Carl and Mary Jo Hill pray with hurricane victims in Naples, Florida
Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains Carl and Mary Jo Hill pray with hurricane victims in Naples, Florida, prior to ministering to dialysis patients at a Miami, Florida, shelter.

Imagine being dependent on dialysis treatment to live.

Now envision being evacuated from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico—then being moved to the U.S.—all to escape hurricanes Irma and Maria.

That was the fate of more than 100 seniors from St. Thomas who were transferred to a Miami, Florida, shelter where they could receive treatments nearby.

That’s where Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains Carl and Mary Jo Hill spent four days offering emotional and spiritual care alongside medical and food service teams.

Many of the dialysis patients were also diabetic and amputees, and completely dependent on strangers for their care.

Carl and Mary Jo Hill in blue Rapid Response Team shirts
After wrapping up ministry to dialysis patients, Carl and Mary Jo Hill were about six hours into their trip home when they received a call. Shelter staff told them that patients were asking for them to return and have prayer. “They were already missing the presence of the chaplains,” said Mary Jo.

“They were helpless in the sense that they were in a strange place, [had] no money, they couldn’t communicate with loved ones,” Carl explained.

“They were very upset because they had been taken so quickly to get out of the path of the hurricane. Their luggage didn’t make it and many only had what they had packed in a small bag.”

Carl and Mary Jo first helped settle the evacuees’ nerves and encouraged them through a ministry of presence—listening and praying with them. Before long they saw other ways to show .

One day Mary Jo saw a woman who was cold and trying to cover herself with a blanket. Mary Jo helped her to get warm. “Just a simple thing of covering up with a blanket—it was huge to her,” she said.

Then there was the blind man who needed help to eat. From across the room, Carl noticed Mary Jo feeding the man as he himself ministered to another blind man who had lost both legs. “I thought, wow. We’re right where we need to be,” Carl said.

Ministering at a shelter was a new experience for the Hills, who are normally assigned to residential areas.

“Being in one spot for that long was very fulfilling,” said Carl. “There was a lot of hands-on caring.

“We looked for what needed to be done and just tried to expand our ministry that way. We brought people ice, coffee and snacks, picked up trash, swept.

“It was a ministry of worship really,” he recalled. “I worshiped all week.”

Medical personnel and other staff thanked the chaplains for their calming presence and for praying with some of them as well.

“When you have chaplains representing Christ in a room like that or anywhere … , the Holy Spirit is so powerful. It changes the atmosphere,” Carl said.

As they minister, chaplains encounter people with so many different problems. Sometimes they really hit home.

One woman named Anetta told Mary Jo about losing two sons in her lifetime and was asking questions about Christianity. Mary Jo connected with the woman because Mary Jo and Carl had lost a son, Adam, in a car accident 11 years ago. As a chaplain and also mom to mom, Mary Jo was able to plant good seeds through their conversations and prayer.

“It’s a big reason we’re in the [RRT] ministry, because we know what it’s like to hurt and to grieve, to lose—no matter what kind of loss it is,” Mary Jo said. “God’s just really given us a heart for the hurting.”

Some in the shelter couldn’t hide their hurt and fear, filling up with tears as she called on God to help them. “I think part of it is because as chaplains, our prayers are so personal—just about them … and their family,” Mary Jo said, adding that many people are only familiar with scripted prayers.

Carl encourages people to and believes struggles and triumphs carry a greater purpose.

“I think God gives us all some kind of platform to bring glory to Him,” he said. “We need to stand on it and talk about God’s goodness in light of the storms or the victories, whatever it is. We need to take that and magnify the goodness of God.”

Whether that’s being displaced two times during hurricanes, being dependent on dialysis to live—or living with a daily reminder of what you’ve lost.

“Where else do you go?” Carl asked. “Where else are you going to go besides to the Lord when you get in situations like this?

“His grace is sufficient.”

Need God’s peace in your life?


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