(RNS) — Franklin Graham, who leads the Christian humanitarian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, has seen war zones from Mosul in Iraq to Ukraine. On his way to Israel last week to assess the damage from the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack, he was prepared to offer the country 14 ambulances to replace ambulances compromised or destroyed in the fighting.
But as he surveyed the destruction during his four days in Israel he decided that Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross’ first responders, also needed a small fleet of armored ambulances. “They’ve got to have something that’s better protected,” Graham said in an interview on his return on Friday (Nov. 17).
Israel has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars from Christian charities and a flood of volunteers who are helping thousands of Israelis who have been evacuated from their homes, both near the Gaza border and at its northern border, where Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group backed by Iran, has fired rockets. Many of the approximately 250,000 Israelis displaced by the attack are living in hotels.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Send Relief is providing temporary housing, bomb shelters, medical supplies, food and trauma counseling to more than 20,400 of the most vulnerable survivors, said Scott Knuteson, a spokesperson for Send Relief.
Send Relief and Samaritan’s Purse, humanitarian organizations that work in many other countries, are now joining a crowded field that includes many evangelical groups focused only on Israel.
Christians United for Israel, which calls itself the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S., raised nearly $3 million to fund first responders and other Israeli charities since Oct. 7. CUFI was founded by San Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee, a prominent Christian Zionist who spoke at the recent March for Israel on the National Mall.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which provides a host of social services to residents of Israel on an annual basis, has also ramped up its relief response, as have the Isaiah Project, the Joshua Fund and the Philos Project, all of which operate mostly to benefit Israel.
One of Israel’s biggest philanthropies, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, founded by the late Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, an American Israeli, has been cultivating relationships with evangelicals for years. Israeli governments have supported such ties and pursued connections with American philanthropies of their own.
On his Israel trip, Graham secured a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.
Graham said Netanyahu looked tired. “I told him, Mr. Prime Minister, I’ve come to pray for you,” Graham said. “We talked for maybe 30 minutes and I prayed for him that God would strengthen him, give him wisdom, give him a clear mind and give him victory over his enemies.”
Aid from Christian mission groups has also flowed into Gaza. Catholic Relief Services, for one, has provided cash assistance to more than 16,000 families, or about 100,000 individuals, in Gaza, a spokesperson said. Since Israel has mostly restricted humanitarian relief as it lays siege to the strip, most of the aid comes in the form of cash.
Graham said Samaritan’s Purse is working with two churches in Gaza, a region that is overwhelmingly Muslim. “The fighting is raging around them, and we have asked the Israelis to please let them help them to evacuate to the south because these Christians are being terrorized by Hamas,” he said. “They have no place to run, no place to go.”
Graham said Samaritan’s Purse would also begin sending some medical supplies to Gaza through the Red Crescent in Egypt.
While in Israel, Graham got a tour of Kibbutz Be’eri, one of several farming communities that sustained massive damage on Oct. 7. Hamas militants killed more than 100 residents and abducted dozens of others to Gaza. Homes were set on fire and their occupants burned alive.
Graham described videos collected by the Israeli Army of the rampage, which he called “sickening.”
“It’s demonic, it’s just evil,” he said.
Samaritan’s Purse will be focusing its efforts in Israel on the city of Sderot, about a mile from the Gaza border, which is still subject to rocket barrages from Gaza.
Graham met there with local officials who said they were interested in helping children with post traumatic stress disorder. They asked Graham if he would support the purchase of horses for an equine therapy program they want to offer children.
“They said they thought this would be good therapy for them, and I said I agree,” said Graham. “So we’re gonna set that program up for these kids.”