Over 350 volunteers affiliated with the international evangelical humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse have partnered with a church to bring emotional, spiritual and physical support to the victims of the flooding that killed over 200 people across Europe this month.
Over 177 people died in Germany as a result of the historic natural disaster. In the rural Western German district of Ahrweiler, a record amount of rainfall recently caused the region’s Ahr River to pour muddy rainwater into various towns.
Nearly 200 residents of the town drowned to death because there was reportedly nowhere for the rapidly rising muddy water to travel due to the community’s valley, which has steep hills on both sides full of vineyards, according to North Carolina-headquartered Samaritan's Purse.
The Samaritan’s Purse German affiliate office began organizing volunteers the day after floods swept through North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatine states. Samaritan’s Purse has deployed 14 international disaster response specialists to support the efforts of its German affiliate office.
Samaritan's Purse disaster relief specialist Nick Bechert told The Christian Post that numerous homes and family businesses, which have been around for thousands of centuries, have been destroyed by over 6 feet of mud water. The water swept into the villages in Ahrweiler and eventually washed into the North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatine states.
After the floodwaters receded the next day in western Germany, thousands of volunteers from Evangelische Freikirche Koeln Ostheim church in Cologne, Germany, partnered with Samaritan's Purse to bring physical, emotional and spiritual support to residents in need.
Over the past week, mud has been removed from the centuries-old structures bucket by bucket. Many homes are reportedly still in the de-mudding process and various structures in the path of the flood water will have a long way to go to be rehabilitated.
“There were untouched piles of debris all over entire streets … and much of the towns were filled with a thick, slippery mud,” said Bechert. He is just one of the 14 international disaster response specialists for Samaritan’s Purse who has worked tirelessly using a bucket in his hands to remove mud from many buildings and homes.
“It was hard to hear stories of how fast the water came through, how there was no time to prepare for it, leading to the loss of life and increased property damage.”
Bechert, a 35-year-old Zionsville, Indiana resident who discovered his Christian faith in his early teens, said he has worked with Samaritan’s Purse for 11 years since the organization's response effort in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
He said he'd had a passion for helping and extending love in times of crisis since his sophomore year at Indiana University when his Campus Crusade chapter sponsored a spring break trip to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“When you are away from your comfort zone and focused on the work God has prepared for you, you will learn, grow and see amazing things. ... Helping often leads to great opportunities to share why you are there and provide hope that goes beyond the physical support,” he said.
“I believe that God calls us to help our neighbor — no matter where in the world that neighbor may be. Right now, they happen to be in Germany after a flood. A major component of this response [effort in Germany] has been facilitating hundreds of Christians from all over Germany to be present and supportive, working in homes along with families and individuals working to rebuild their lives.”
Bechert said Samaritan Purse has a team of counselors on staff in various villages who listen to impacted individuals and “remind them that God loves them and they are not alone.”
“Our site leaders have been trained in spiritual and psychosocial first aid and they know the common signs of trauma to be looking out for, how best to listen and be present with hurting people, and then what resources to link to,” he said.
The loss of life from this disaster has been devastating, Bechert stressed.
“Please pray for the families in Germany and pray for our teams as we provide immediate aid and that God would use us to continue ministering to families in the weeks and months to come.”
Local law enforcement continues to search for missing people. And within damaged businesses and homes, generations of families’ priceless heirlooms and personal belongings have been destroyed or lost.
For many of the survivors, Bechart said, they will remain impacted by the flood for months due to physical needs and emotional trauma.
Homeowner Michael Münn-Buschow told Samaritan Purse that he and his wife, Iris, live in a home that has been in Iris’ family for hundreds of years.
Within a matter of hours, not only his basement but also the first floor was underwater.
“I looked out the roof window, and suddenly the Ahr came closer and closer to us,” he was quoted as saying. “Employees from Samaritan’s Purse came and helped us.”
Bechert said he often reminds survivors affected by natural disasters about “God’s love.” However, he often receives questions, such as: “Why did God let this happen?” “Is this punishment or a test?” or “How could a loving God allow such pain and suffering?”
“I’ve learned over time that it is best to be honest that I don’t have all the answers and to sit and listen and share in their lament,” Bechert said. “What I can be confident in is sharing about God’s love for us, not just by sending His followers from around the world in a time of crisis, but also by making a way for us to be in a relationship with Him.”