It never fails … at the close of every Operation Blessing U.S. Disaster Relief (USDR) deployment, whether it be three days of snow removal, three weeks of debris removal or three months of repair and rebuilding, we’ve come to expect that one last phone call, one last request, one last story brought to our attention right at the moment when we think we can’t shovel another iced-covered driveway, clear another tornado-ravaged property or restore another flood-damaged home.

A brief moment of “I don’t think we can” settled in human weariness quickly turns into “let’s see if we can make this happen” empowered by the Spirit’s prodding as we hear one last disaster victim share one last need, one last hope for help. And this last work order almost always proves slightly beyond the scope of the deployment, exacting our last creative solution, our last remaining supplies and our last ounce of energy.

Operation Blessing | Garcia Home Rebuild in Moore, OK

Operation Blessing, in partnership with Keller Williams Realty, rebuilds the first home destroyed by the May 20, 2013, tornado in Moore, OK.

Moore, OK Tornado (May 20, 2013)

In Moore, OK, our last project required an extended four-week deployment for four members of our OB UDSR team in order to put the necessary finishing touches on the new home of 74-year-old Barbara Garcia and her dog, Bowser (yes, the story we all followed in the wake of the tornado: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/okla-tornado-survivor-finds-dog-buried-alive-under-rubble/). Already battling declining mobility and serious health concerns before the EF5 tornado leveled her home, Barbara now found herself homeless.

Operation Blessing stepped in, partnering with Keller Williams Realty, to restore hope and facilitate healing for Barbara and the surrounding neighborhood razed by the May 20, 2013, storm. In light of the scale of the devastation, OB staff and volunteers determined our last act in the region would produce the first complete rebuild of the approximately 1200 homes damaged or destroyed by the tornado.

Washington, IL Tornado (November 17, 2013)

In Washington, IL, it was one last appeal from the friend of a family who lost all their personal possessions in the November 17, 2013, EF4 tornado. That Sunday morning the family had huddled in their parents’ basement with their three young children as their home disintegrated around them. At a moment in time when their nine-month-old baby, the recent recipient of a heart transplant, required a sterile living environment, the family found themselves living amongst the dust and debris of their belongings.

After one last team meeting – and one last call into OB leadership at our Emergency Command Center in Virginia Beach, VA – we were blessed to spend the last moments of our last day acquiring and presenting the couple with gift cards to assist with the replacement of needed baby items and home goods (accompanied by stuffed bears for each of their children, of course).

Operation Blessing | Concord, NC Snow Storm

Operation Blessing responds to the needs of the Charlotte and Concord, NC region following the February 12, 2014, snow storm.

Concord, NC Snow Storm (February 12, 2014)

In Charlotte, NC, it was one last call from Laurie Ross, a strong-hearted woman physically weakened by the debilitating affects of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Laurie found herself unable to untangle the twisted remains of her backyard gazebo, which had collapsed on her patio from the weight of the unusual amount of snow, and requested our assistance. Four broken metal side supports, intermingled with the heavy fabric cover, blocked her sliding glass door while shards of class from the light fixture underneath covered the concrete pad, preventing the owner from letting her dogs roam their yard.

We know it’s hard to ask for help, so when she reached out to us with her story, we knew we needed to respond to that need during our last few hours with our last few volunteers. Laurie stated, “If you hadn’t been here today, this would have been here for months. I never want to ask anyone for help, but I called and you came.”

It is always worth it. The last work order – without fail – produces some of the most lasting memories, the most lasting results and the most lasting impact on the team, our volunteers and the recipients of our assistance. I would never trade that one last experience for anything less than a strong finish for a region in need. These inevitable “lasts” offer icing on the cake of rich comfort, cooperation and community formed in the midst of – and recovery from – natural disasters.

This is when Operation Blessing’s USDR team and volunteers shine the brightest –

  • from Vice President Jody Gettys’ call for excellence and finishing strong
  • to Director Dan Moore’s reminder to remember the difference we can make in that community
  • to Deputy Director Raymond McGregor’s inspiration and encouragement at the start of each amazing day
  • to each staff members’ conscious decision to delay an anticipated return to hotel (sleep), headquarters (unpacking) and home (family)
  • to the volunteer teams who offer to work one more hour or one more day, whatever is required meet that one last need

– when each of us makes the most of the opportunity to put one last layer of skin on Christ’s love for a disaster victim, their family and the communities in which we serve.

In each case, Operation Blessing USDR’s ability to redeem hope for these “one last” requests, along with the tens, hundreds and thousands of other needs met during each deployment, is made possible by our partners at the Christian Broadcasting Network, The 700 Club and Operation Blessing International. Thank you for giving. Thank you for equipping. Thank you for clearing the way to hope-giving love for victims of natural disasters.