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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Chaplains, First Responders Assist During Disasters

By Kelly Bevill
Sept. 11, 2011

Jim Uhey compares disaster response to a 1,000-piece puzzle.

“Everything that we do individually is like one piece of that puzzle,” he says.

Uhey serves as a specialized chaplain with Assemblies of God U.S. Missions and is the chairman of the Northern California and Nevada District Disaster Relief Task Force. For a decade, he has played a part in piecing together disaster response puzzles in different communities, including New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Natural disasters and public emergencies throw communities into a state of crisis. Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and rescue personnel provide support during overwhelming natural events such as hurricanes, floods or tornadoes, or manmade disasters such as 9/11 or school shootings. All greatly affect a community, creating countless opportunities to help and to minister.

The Northern California and Nevada District has spent 10 years developing a disaster response program to train individuals and church groups so they would be ready to respond in the event of a crisis. The Mississippi District also has a response team, with a core group of first responders who partner with local churches to provide assistance during a disaster.

Many churchgoers have no idea how to help in a crisis, Uhey says. To better equip participants, the district utilizes resources from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation and Christ in Action in order to train and mobilize pastors and laypeople. Christ in Action offers a faith-based first responders conference and pastoral crisis intervention training.

Former firefighter David Huffman, an Assemblies of God chaplain in Midlothian, Va., facilitates Christ in Action’s faith-based first responder training.

“We train, recruit and mobilize people for ministry centered on crisis response,” Huffman says. “It’s the greatest opportunity to be the major redemptive, helping, compassionate force that the church is meant to be.”

Christ in Action was founded by and is directed by Denny Nissley, an Assemblies of God nationally appointed chaplain. Teams are organized and deployed on a national level during a disaster in order to help people wherever there are practical needs. This includes comforting victims, clearing debris, identifying supplies and food needed, providing medical intervention and assisting with logistics.

In addition to meeting practical needs, Christ in Action members seek to meet spiritual needs, including among first responders.

“We intentionally communicate Jesus Christ and His compassion,” Huffman says. “Public safety, fire, rescue and police, by reason of being on the job and the scope of operations they are involved in, are exposed to the ills of society, whatever that may be. It engages your full senses.”

Rudy Calderon, who attends Humble (Texas) First Assembly along with his wife, Tammy, has worked as a police officer in Houston for 33 years. At one time Calderon and five of his brothers all worked for the Houston Police Department.

Calderon knows firsthand the intensity of a disaster can be an emotional experience for a first responder.As a police officer, he has learned to trust God when dealing with crisis.

“You never know from day to day what you are going to be dealing with,” Calderon says. “God helps you through everything no matter what situation you’re in. He keeps you strong and keeps you going every day.”

Chaplains have a unique role in times of disaster. They build a reputation among the police officers or firefighters they are working with before disasters occur, and stand alongside them during and after an emergency. Chaplains provide emotional and spiritual support when a first responder has experienced and seen more than he or she can handle.

“The chaplain plays an integral role for the people who are at the scene — both responders and victims,” says Durell Tuberville, an Assemblies of God chaplain in Greenwood, La. “When the chaplain rolls up it brings an immediate calm because chaplains are dedicated to helping meet the need — whatever that need may be.”

Chaplains demonstrate their faith to first responders and victims by trusting God.

“My faith allows me to understand that there have always been disasters and there will always be disasters,” Tuberville says. “My faith lets me hold on to God, who will sustain us through them.”

Huffman sees his role as chaplain as a vital way to reach non-Christians.

“Chaplaincy has enabled me to go places and be with people that ordinarily I would never be able to go to, and to be able to reach out to people in a very compassionate way,” Huffman says. “In crisis, people open up and become receptive to Christ in the point of their need.”

Disaster response takes many forms and meets both physical and spiritual needs. Some people serve as first responders and others are chaplains who support those who respond. Pastors and laypeople are trained to know how to comfort victims of a disaster. Uhey encourages districts, churches and pastors to have a disaster plan that is specific to the potential issues relevant to their sphere of influence.

Uhey says Christians need to be more equipped than simply sharing rehearsed answers with a victim. Training is important to learn how to engage people and help them invite God into the middle of their pain.

Former Pentecostal Evangel intern KELLY BEVILL is a freelance writer and student at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

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