Disaster Relief with Samaritan's Purse

October 16, 2020 by

Since 2016 the Bruderhof and Samaritan’s Purse have been working together to help those in need and proclaim the gospel. From supporting Operation Christmas Child to setting up hospitals in Liberia and even Central Park; after-earthquake relief in Nepal and Haiti; setting up supply warehouses in North Carolina or tornado relief in Tennessee; post-hurricane rebuilding in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean and Venezuelan refugee relief – the last four years have proven an active partnership.

On August 4, 2020 there was a catastrophic explosion in Lebanon at the Beirut port. Like the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks of the Twin Towers, many firefighters who responded to the disaster scene where killed. In an inexplicable example of bureaucratic dysfunction, lack of regulations, and zero enforcement, a warehouse was blown up by 2750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, first triggered when fifteen tons of fireworks, jugs of kerosene, oil, and hydrochloric acid went up in flames. It was reported that “nearly 200 people were killed and thousands of others were injured.” The blast, estimated to be a thousand times more powerful than the 1995 Oklahoma City bomb, left a fifteen-yard deep crater and destroyed entire neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital city. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced.

Samaritan's Purse volunteerCourtesy of Samaritan's Purse

In response to the massive explosion and fires in Beirut, we could only provide financial support to Samaritan’s Purse. It has been impossible to send any trained personnel from the Bruderhof due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Below is a short interview with Aaron Ashoff, who serves as the deputy director of international projects with Samaritan’s Purse.

Johann Huleatt: Can you describe how Samaritan’s Purse is responding and working with the churches in Beirut, since the explosion and fire in the port? I know you were on the advance team going in.

Aaron Ashoff: The Samaritan’s Purse (SP) response in Beirut began mere days after the explosion which rocked the city. Over the course of the following month, Samaritan’s Purse airlifted some fifty-five tons of supplies to Beirut using its DC-8 cargo plane. These critical supplies included tarps, hygiene kits, and solar lights, which Samaritan’s Purse distributed to over forty-seven hundred households in the most badly damaged neighborhoods of Beirut. In addition, medical teams were deployed to both engage in clinical care of needful and injured individuals, as well as to teach and train local hospital staff on COVID-19 treatment protocols and COVID-19 prevention best practices. Spiritual counseling was also made available to those who were traumatized by the blast. All of this was implemented in close partnership with established local church partners.

Johann Huleatt: In addition to the explosion and the port fire, what has been the impact of COVID-19 on how Samaritan’s Purse responds to this disaster and the rebuilding effort?

Aaron Ashoff: Early on in the response, SP was granted exemption from the Lebanese government from COVID-19 lockdown protocols, in order that relief work could continue unimpeded. Thus, the primary impact COVID-19 had on the response was related to the direct medical programming SP engaged in to train health care workers to mitigate the negative impacts the disease is having in Lebanon.

Johann Huleatt: According to Mr. Kent Hill from the Religious Freedom Institute, since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the Syrian war in 2011, Lebanon has been among the top four nations leading the world in accepting refugees and displaced people. Since 2015 the Bruderhof has been supporting responses to the refugee crisis in Lebanon, such as World Vision’s programs in the Bekaa Valley refugee camp. At that time it was reported that one in four people, or a quarter of the population in Lebanon, are displaced people as a result of the wars in Iraq and Syria. How is the refugee crisis affecting the disaster response?

Aaron Ashoff: Greater population diversity adds greater complexities to disaster response, primarily due to the greater range of languages, cultural norms, and socioeconomic classes which must be addressed in order to make a positive impact. That being said, the refugees most impacted by the Beirut explosion were urban-dwelling, and so the material needed to assist them was not fundamentally different from that provided to native Lebanese. The scale of need is certainly made larger, due to the significant increase in population this refugee influx brought.

Samaritan's Purse volunteerCourtesy of Samaritan's Purse

Johann Huleatt: How are local churches responding to the crisis?

Aaron Ashoff: Local churches in Beirut are coming together to respond to the crisis, though it is important to note that this explosion came in the midst of an already severe economic downturn that affects the church.

Johann Huleatt: Lastly, do you see the religious communities in Beirut and Lebanon that are a variety of Christians and a variety of Muslims being able work harmoniously together to forge a peaceful, prosperous future? Can an ecumenical movement in Beirut and Lebanon help fend off extremist chaos, build peace in the Middle East, and avoid becoming another failed state?

Aaron Ashoff: This is a very thoughtful question. We have focused our response in Lebanon to help those most affected by the explosion and have stayed neutral on national and regional politics. A neutral position allows us to maintain access to diverse populations in need across Lebanon and the Middle East.

See here if you’d like to make a donation to Samaritan’s Purse.

Johann Huleatt is the Bruderhof’s Outreach Director. He lives with his family at Woodcrest, a Bruderhof in Rifton, New York.


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