Debbie Reese has met a lot of people over the past 13 years she says she’ll never forget – people who have lost homes, friends, family members and in some cases, everything.
But there’s one memory in particular that moves her to tears – the day she saw a 10-year-old girl in Moore, Okla., standing, staring at the spot where her school used to be. A tornado had ripped through the building a couple of weeks before.
“I went and put my hand on her shoulder and just started talking with her,” Debbie said. “It ended up she was suffering from survivor’s guilt because her friend was killed and she was not – she was not at school that day.”
That simple gesture led the young girl to write the idea on the back of a t-shirt for the sake of everyone around her, to possibly help someone else – “If you’re hurting, or if you’re sad, just put your hand on my shoulder and I’ll talk to you.”
Debbie said the opportunity to help the girl, Lauren, in her healing process made an impact on her, too. Every year since, Debbie has put her hand on the shoulder of person after person, asking them what they need, showing them love and pointing them toward the hope of Jesus.
“It’s a mission,” she said. “It’s our mission that God has placed us in to be able to share His love with others who are hurting.”
It was through God’s guidance that she and her husband Al got into disaster relief work in 2007. They’d both retired from a career as special agents with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and “[we] knew when we retired we needed ministry, and this is the one He led us to,” Debbie said.
They ended up at South Sauty Baptist Church in Langston, Ala., where pastor Jerry Butler did chainsaw training for disaster relief volunteers.
“He got us involved at that time, and it was such a great opportunity,” Al said.
The Reeses attended training together and haven’t stopped since. They’ve traveled all over the Southeast and to other parts of the country ministering to people in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods and other disasters.
They’re both trained as white hats for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, which means either can be called out as the lead disaster relief director for a command post when needed.
For their most recent assignment – the incident command center at East Leesville Baptist Church in Louisiana – Al is leading as they work to help those affected by Hurricane Laura.
But Debbie is still his white hat – the real boss, he joked.
Al said when he and Debbie begin a disaster relief assignment, they always “say a prayer that God would go before us and prepare safe passage for us and that He would touch the people that He has already intended for us to reach.”
He remembers one specific time that happened in St. Augustine, Fla. – he knocked on the door of a woman who cried and said she’d been praying for someone to come help her.
“I said, ‘Well your prayers have been answered, and our prayers have too because He coordinated this meeting between both of us,’” Al said. “That’s one of the things I love about this mission – being able to show and share the love of Christ.”