When Category 4 Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on Sept. 28, it brought with it 150-mph winds, heavy rain and a massive storm surge. Called one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Florida, Ian claimed 148 lives.

Mark Rapant, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Menomonee Falls, was one of approximately 140 individuals who volunteered in October with Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse to help those devastated by the storm.

Rapant said he felt called by the Lord to be a servant to others.

“The experiences and education that the Lord has provided for me during my life have prepared me for this service,” Rapant said. “My father is a carpenter who taught me significant home renovation skills.  My education, with many other mentors, resulted in becoming licensed as an architect and professional engineer.”

In past years, Rapant, who is an engineer with Milwaukee County, volunteered with mission trips to Honduras with St. Mary Parish in Menomonee Falls, Habitat for Humanity and Engineers Without Borders.

“I have been a volunteer and mentor with university engineering students to design and build school buildings and bridges in Central America and Ghana, Africa, for more than 10 years,” he said. “With significant influence from my parents, the focus of my life has been helping family and friends, with more recent opportunities to serve those in need in other parts of the world.”

Rapant first learned of Samaritan’s Purse, based in North Carolina, through the annual Operation Christmas Child ministry.  Together, they packed shoeboxes with school supplies, personal hygiene items and toys, which Samaritan’s Purse ships around the world.

Hurricane Ian disaster relief was the first time Rapant traveled to help others with Samaritan’s Purse. He was surprised at how well prepared the organization was in meeting the needs of the volunteers with lodging accommodations, dining requirements and spiritual needs through a focus on God with daily prayer and devotions.

“(I was surprised) at the number of tools and materials that were available at each base camp to be used by the disaster relief teams to serve the residents,” he said.

Rapant was also astonished by the amount of hurricane damage that occurred over a very large area, including the significant damage to mobile homes, primarily occupied by retired individuals.

“There were more than 2,000 requests for assistance to the Englewood Base Camp when I arrived, which was reduced to only 1,800 open requests two weeks later when I left,” Rapant said.

While in Florida, the team served three to four homeowners requiring emotional and physical support.  Volunteers had trucks filled with ladders, wheelbarrows, chainsaws, and hand and construction tools to help them with cleanup.

The team’s primary role was to listen, comfort and share the love of God with homeowners. Rapant said the residents were overjoyed to see volunteers from across the country. They all prayed together before starting work.

Additionally, the volunteers completed a variety of tasks, including yard cleanup, cutting downed trees, tarping roofs and removing wet drywall and insulation.

“The residents were overwhelmed when 10 to 16 volunteers from around the United States, with orange SP T-shirts, came to their homes to help them make their homes and yards safe,” said Rapant. “There were many tears of joy from the residents, and the volunteers, as we completed the work, prayed with them and left them with the gift of a volunteer-signed Bible.”

Three Samaritan’s Purse base camps served the needs of the hurricane-affected areas of southwest Florida: Fort Meyers, Punta Gorda and Englewood. Rapant served at the Englewood Base Camp with 100 to 140 volunteers each day from Monday through Saturday.

“I felt the presence of God throughout each day while eating, working, praying and just talking with God-fearing volunteer Christians from many different faith traditions,” Rapanta said. “I also had the opportunity to witness to many homeowners as we helped them recover from the tragedy.  This opportunity significantly affected my walk with the Lord.”

There were many challenges surrounding the disaster relief work, but probably the most daunting was the removal of water-saturated drywall and insulation on homes where the roofs were damaged.  Some who lost their homes had minimal resources to rebuild and no insurance to cover the loss.

“The most rewarding was the tears of joy that many of the homeowners and volunteers experienced as we prayed with the homeowners after we completed work at their homes and knowing that God was working alongside us each day,” said Rapant. “I will serve again with Samaritan’s Purse.  They have recently requested volunteer assistance for tornado recovery in Georgia and Alabama, and flooding recovery in California; and I suspect that the need will increase. “

Rapant encourages others to participate in the efforts of Samaritan’s Purse or Catholic disaster relief organizations and plans to continue his volunteer efforts after retiring from work.

“I don’t intend to ever really ‘retire,’ as I will continue to serve for as long as the Lord allows,” he said. “I also intend to recruit others to join me on future deployments.”

For more information on Samaritan’s Purse, visit https://www.samaritanspurse.org.

Mark Rapant, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Menomonee Falls, helped with Hurricane Ian relief in October in Florida. (Submitted photo)