The sky was still dark when Gabe Richardson (19) began each day on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was dark again when he finally returned to his hotel room for a few hours of sleep. He spent much of the spring working in the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic: New York City. Despite the long days and potentially dangerous work, it was where he wanted to be.

“2 Timothy 1:7 tells us not to live in fear and worry but to invest in the spirit of love, power, and sound mind,” he said. “I have been amazed by what God has given me the privilege to be a part of.”

Richardson took a full-time position with the Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse shortly after graduating from PLNU last year. He was expecting to head to Liberia after completing his training in logistics and operations. There, he was going to put into practice his double major in international business and international development and his minor in psychology. He still will likely go to Liberia eventually. But in the short term, Richardson was one of four Samaritan’s Purse apprentices to be commissioned to New York City to work with the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) at the organization’s 68-bed COVID-19 field hospital there. 

“Samaritan’s Purse [was] in New York to support New York City’s efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “Our organization opened an Emergency Field Respiratory Care Unit in Central Park.”

Being on the frontlines of a pandemic did not daunt Richardson, who said, “I’m right where God wants me.” He felt many things at once: “privileged, empowered, purpose-filled, tired, inspired by those I am surrounded by, and constantly learning.”

Being in an emergency situation meant that team members had to pitch in where needed. Richardson said during the DART team’s set-up, from March 29-31, everyone worked together to set up the tents and build things the base needed, such as wooden platforms for garbage bins, walkways, ramps, and shelves/boot racks. He even stepped in to fix a leaky sink and do laundry. The work happened quickly, and the team accepted their first COVID patient in the afternoon of March 31. Rest was scarce, and they had to tune out the way some media criticized Samaritan’s Purse being present in the area.

After the initial all-hands-on-deck set up of the site, Richardson’s days took on more of a routine. His role became transportation logistics coordinator.

“I [would] get up at 5:30 a.m. to drive the morning shuttle at 6 a.m.,” he said. After making multiple trips to get all staff to the hospital, at “6:45 a.m. devotions start[ed], and we [had] breakfast together as a team.” Richardson then spent his time assisting the base manager and organizing the shuttle schedule, which required communication with the travel team and other staff. After lunch, he usually did airport runs, or, if there weren’t any, he would go on procurement runs for medical or base supplies, fill or clean the vehicles, or help maintenance with tasks like preparing for adverse weather. “I [would] then eat dinner and start the evening shuttle driving from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and sometimes have to do the late airport runs at midnight or even 4 a.m. if we [had] any that day,” he said.

Richardson repeated this schedule or a slight variation seven days a week. 

“I found that even though a shuttle driver is not what I went to school for or even trained at Samaritan’s Purse to be, I [could] still do the job with excellence, and God [could] use me and teach me. I [was] able to pray with many of the health care workers who [came] onto the shuttle, talk[ing] through tragedies and successes, and just be[ing] a friend.”

One opportunity that lined up with Richardson’s interests was the chance to document some of the unit’s activity.

“Photography is a passion of mine and to be able to photograph something like this field hospital and its staff has been incredible!” he said.

Many people were grateful to have Samaritan’s Purse in Central Park, including the doctors and nurses at nearby Mt. Sinai Hospital. 

In addition, “Every day at 7 p.m., the locals gather[ed] and cheer[ed], applauding for all the work being done to fight COVID-19 and to encourage the medical staff working tirelessly with the patients,” Richardson said. 

Being on the frontlines of a pandemic has not daunted Richardson, who said, “I’m right where God wants me.”

On the frontlines, there were opportunities to see God at work in both grand and subtle ways.

“I have heard from both doctors and nurses getting off their shifts of God working in their wards,” he said. “Patients coming to Christ and miracles happening, oxygen levels raising dramatically for good. Every time they discharge[d] a patient at our hospital, they [rang] a cow bell and cheer[ed] for everyone to hear. This encourage[d] the staff as well as the other patients in the hospital, giving them hope of full recovery.”

Samaritan’s Purse was well-prepared to assist in the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization’s experience fighting Ebola in Liberia and the Congo gave them useful insights and practices that helped keep staff safe.

“We [had] structures in place to protect the staff from the spread of the virus,” Richardson explained. 

While there have been many concerns over the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the United States and elsewhere, Samaritan’s Purse had more than enough. “It’s amazing that we have the resources that we have to provide PPE. One example of this is that we were able to donate 10,000 masks to UNC Health, on top of responding in Cremona Italy and New York City. God has totally blessed the organization with supplies to do the work.” 

An image of the tents set up in New York

Richardson’s unique position on the frontlines of a pandemic less than a year after graduating college came about largely because of the interest he developed in humanitarian aid during his time at PLNU. In fact, Richardson completed a summer communications internship with Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan in 2018, which was how he first became connected to the organization. During his internship, Richardson’s role was as a photojournalist – he took photos and wrote the stories about people who had benefited from cleft lip surgeries Samaritan’s Purse provided in the area. That internship led to Samaritan’s Purse approaching Richardson about the apprentice program once he graduated. 

His recent experiences in New York are part of Richardson’s refining of his calling.

“At this point, I am still learning and trying to digest what I am learning so that I can fine-tune what my passion is and where my heart is leading,” he said. “I know I want to alleviate suffering; I am just trying to figure out how I can do this best.”

“I am still learning and trying to digest what I am learning so that I can fine-tune what my passion is and where my heart is leading. I know I want to alleviate suffering; I am just trying to figure out how I can do this best.”

At PLNU, his classes, time as a resident assistant, studying abroad, jobs, internships, and friendships all played a part in shaping Richardson. He was influenced by his parents, sister, and faculty and staff role models, including Rick Hallahan, Beth Denney, Kaleigh Hofer, Bruce Schooling, Ph.D., and Rob Gailey, Ph.D.

“PLNU was critical in my development of who I am today,” Richardson said. “My degrees have all helped me in my career; however, it was the journey of finding and pursuing them that truly shaped me.”

Related Article: Brandon Walsh’s family was faced with an unplanned exit from Rwanda and their ministry there in the face of COVID-19.

Gabriel Richardson has also been honored with a 2021 PLNU Homecoming Alumni Award. To learn more, visit the PLNU Homecoming website.

Christine is the editor of the Viewpoint magazine at PLNU.