Making a difference: Gideon Rescue Company travels to places hit by natural disaster
Several years ago an ER physician began a degree program at a small Christian college in Lincoln, Neb known as International Rescue and Relief. Coursework included swift water rescue, wilderness survival and rescue, beach survival, ocean survival, and a semester abroad working in medical clinics in underprivileged areas.
Brock Mayer of the Gideon Rescue Company was a member of the second class to go through the program.
"It was an amazing experience," Brock said. "I think coming out of that program and recognizing that these disasters aren't slowing down but getting more and more frequent, some of us wanted to continue but we really didn't have an outlet or a place to continue it. We wanted to not only physically help people, but spiritually help those who are struggling. So that was the theme we continued when we started the Gideon Rescue Program."
The group got their start after the major earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and have continued to go into disaster areas for over a decade. Mayer said the core group is composed of six to eight individuals based in the Ardmore area with approximately the same amount of members scattered across the rest of the country.
"It's a small group and we're not funded by any particular entity," Mayer said. "It's all privately funded through the team members themselves or through the associations those team members have with other people, churches and groups — and a lot if is just by faith."
Mayer said their small size works to their advantage.
"That allows us to have flexibility and freedom," he said. "Because we're small, logistically our teams are easier to get in and out of disaster zones. In terms of quick response, we can typically get out within a day or two."
In terms of skillsets, members of GRC have a wide range of talents.
"God has blessed us to have a lot of skill sets from flight nursing, paramedicine, a physician, an EMT, and search and rescue," Mayer said. "So they are varied across the board in terms of what we have, but even that is not necessarily a qualifying factor. We've got guys on our team who are mortgage bankers. So we just open the door to anyone who has the heart to serve in that capacity and serve their fellow human family, and we don't put a limit on any particular skillset."
He said what truly sets GRC apart from others is their reliance on God and what they have termed the "Spiritual Golden Hour."
"It comes down to that age old adage," he said. "You can go weeks without food. You can even go a few days without water depending on the conditions, but the moment you give up hope that's when it's over. We've seen that time and time again in disaster zones. So we feel called to provide people hope, and what gives us hope is the Biblical structure that we have within our team. We act upon the promises God has given us, and God opens up a lot of doors."
One example of this came when GRC landed in Haiti after the recent earthquake. The team had flown into Port-au-Prince and quickly made a connection with the commander of the US Coast Guard.
"The US Coast Guard Commander pulled us aside," Mayer said. "He didn't even know us or what we were about. He just saw this small team. He said that he just got word about a close partner who had died from an aneurism after being flown back to Florida with a medical emergency, and he asked us to pray with him.
"So you recognize in that moment just why we're in Haiti. Are we here for the reasons we think or are we here to support this guy through his emotional and spiritual stress? So we prayed with him right there on the spot, and he was so thankful that we were there to support him. It was right after that he said I've got these helicopters here. Let's get you guys where you need to go. There's no way we could have planned that. We find time and time again that our team is at the right place at the right time because our goal is to give people hope — and hope opens up doors."
The group once again found themselves in the right place at the right time when they left Haiti and headed to Louisiana after Hurricane Ida struck. After landing in Florida, someone donated a plane and a pilot to get GRC to Houma, La. Upon arriving in Houma, their goal was to get to Grand Isle, La. where they had a contact in law enforcement.
"When we landed in Houma, there was an Army National Guard CH-47 helicopter sitting there on the ground," Mayer said. "I walked over to the pilot just to say hello and check in, and interestingly enough he asked me if we were the team that he was taking to Grand Isle."
The National Guard was actually waiting for a FEMA team who were coming in and wanted to get in the helicopter to circle in the air to check things out and get a view of the damage. After making the connection with the pilot and the crew, GRC was able to get onto the flight and land two team members as a forward team to help coordinate with their base of operations in Houma.
While in Louisiana, the group also helped an older gentleman by the name of Stanley whose yard was littered with severely damaged trees.
"He was probably 75 years old, and his yard was just full of trees," Mayer said. "There's no way he would have ever been able to clean those up himself or be able to afford to pay for it."
Fortunately GRC knew a group that specialized in tree removal who were able to help.
"Stanley was there in his front yard, and he was telling one of our tree guys that there was no way he'd ever be able to pay for this," Mayer said. "So our guy goes back and gets his chainsaw. Then one of the other guys finds out he's going back alone without much equipment. So he offered to bring other workers with a loader and one of their big cranes. All of the sudden it snowballs, and Stanley has this incredible operation taking place in his yard where they're cutting up all those trees and putting them to the curb, and he's in tears.
"It's those positive stories that unfortunately don't ever make the headlines, but there's something to say about good news because it brings hope. Stanley went from total defeat to being inspired that someone would do this for him. It changed his perspective from being totally beaten down to knowing tomorrow is going to be a better day."
As a team that deals with emergency response, Mayer said they obviously have no idea where or when they will be headed somewhere next. But he has faith they will go to where they are needed most.
"We see things that happen, and it really just depends on how bad the disaster is," Mayer said. "We always pray on it and ask God if he would have us go on on this response, and if this is the place where we could best utilize our skillset."