On Tuesday, the North Carolina-based global Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse airlifted an emergency field hospital to the Italian city of Milan to help a health care system overwhelmed by the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, Italy experienced 35,317 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 2,978 deaths.
Amid this crisis, Samaritan’s Purse airlifted a 68-bed emergency field hospital to Milan. The DC-8 aircraft carried approximately 20 tons of medical equipment, a respiratory care unit designed for this specific mission, and 32 disaster relief personnel, including doctors, nurses, and respiratory specialists. That medical team will stay in Italy for a month.
“We are always ready to provide critical relief in the face of this crisis,” Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement. “We are going to Italy to provide life-saving care to people who are suffering. There is a lot of fear and panic around the world, but we trust that God is in control. We continue to pray for everyone affected by this global health crisis and for our medical team as they respond.”
Samaritan’s Purse is setting up the emergency field hospital in Cremona, about 50 miles outside of Milan. About two-thirds of coronavirus deaths in Italy have taken place in the Lombardy region, encompassing both Milan and Cremona.
The charity announced that it has partnered with local evangelical churches and chaplains to minister spiritually to the coronavirus patients whom the medical team will serve physically.
“We have an unbelievable staff willing to do this and share the hope of Jesus Christ along with their medical expertise,” Edward Graham, Franklin Graham’s youngest son and assistant to the vice president of Samaritan’s Purse, told media at the airlift. “Medicine is a magnet for the Gospel.”
Franklin Graham is the eldest son of the late evangelical preacher Billy Graham, who brought about something of a revival through his “Crusades.” Samaritan’s Purse is best known for Operation Christmas Child, a program to send shoeboxes full of gifts to children in poor countries.
This extraordinary act of Christian charity echoes the sacrifice of the early church during ancient Roman plagues. During the two devastating plagues of the 100s and 200s A.D., pagan Romans would cast infected people out of their houses to die. Christians, by contrast, went to serve the sick, risking exposure themselves but saving many in the process. This act of service not only helped save lives but also helped spread the gospel in a hostile culture. The Christian witness during these plagues helps explain how the marginal Jesus movement eventually conquered the largest empire in the world at that time.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.