That growth has come largely on the strength of its frontline work in public health crises and natural disasters around the world.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Samaritan’s Purse designed and assembled emergency field hospitals. In the past two years it put them to use in Italy; the Bahamas; New York City; Los Angeles; Jackson, Mississippi; and Lenoir, North Carolina. Its quick response to emerging health crises was tested in 2014, when two of its medical personnel contracted the deadly Ebola virus while treating people in Liberia. They were evacuated to Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital where they were treated and recovered.
“When we say we run to the fire, that’s not idle talk,” said Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations and the logistical and regulatory brain behind the group’s sophisticated international enterprise.
Samaritan’s Purse has built up a corps of Christian doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who volunteer on short-term trips to mission hospitals across the world and a cadre of domestic volunteers trained in debris removal, mud-outs and light construction.
The organization’s headquarters are in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountain town of Boone. It has warehouses in Coppell, Texas, and Fullerton, California, field offices in 17 countries across the world and a lodge in Alaska where it runs marriage seminars for wounded soldiers and law enforcement officers.
But unlike many other Christian charities, Samaritan’s Purse is distinct in a particular way: It has a galvanizing, and sometimes polarizing, leader.
“I think most people today would be hard-pressed to name the president of Catholic Charities, World Vision or Compassion (International),” said David King, director of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. “Many organizations are not led by personalities in the same way that Franklin Graham leads Samaritan’s Purse.”
As the son and successor to the Rev. Billy Graham and the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Graham, 70, has outsize stature in the evangelical fold. With his 10 million Facebook followers and 2.5 million Twitter followers, he inveighs regularly on some of the hottest issues of the day, drawing as many supporters as detractors for his conservative and partisan views.
He is a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump; most recently he blasted the FBI for raiding Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, claiming, falsely, that Trump would return the documents, if asked. A culture warrior on the social issues of the day, whether it’s abortion, same-sex marriage or sexuality, Graham regularly denounces what he sees as a godless America set adrift by secular culture. He applauded the Canadian Freedom Convoy. He labeled Disney a “moral failure” for its gay-friendly policies. He pushed a domestic abuse victim to return to her pastor husband.
But when it comes to running Samaritan’s Purse, he has also proven to be an effective leader committed to helping people in crisis in the most nimble and resourceful ways possible.
“Franklin always liked the challenge of getting on the ground fast and cutting through red tape and bureaucracy,” said Mark DeMoss, a now-retired public relations executive who represented Graham. “He wants to go where others can’t go, get set up quicker than others and show (people) you’re on the ground.”