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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. ...

One Suitcase

By Scott Harrup
June 30, 2013

"Are you Pastor Schafer?”

Chaplain Dan Schafer turned toward the young woman. She had been a child at a church where he ministered for 18 years. Now grown, with a family of her own, she met Schafer at a New Jersey Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Center where he was serving in the wake of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

Schafer caught sight of the slip of paper the woman was holding.

“People coming to the recovery center would turn in their driver’s license and receive a slip of paper giving them a seat on one of the buses going back to their community to let them examine their homes,” Schafer explains. “A mark on that slip meant your house was gone. I looked at her slip, and it had that check mark. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her, ‘When you get out to the Barrier Island, you’re not going to see anything. Your house is gone.’”

Equally traumatic for Schafer were the lines of people boarding buses, each holding a single suitcase. They would be driven to their homes and allowed to bring back to the recovery center whatever they could fit into the single piece of luggage.

“Imagine,” Schafer says, “that you’ve lived 20 or 30 years in a place, and they tell you that you can only bring back what you can put into a suitcase. You just can’t imagine the look on those people’s faces as they were getting off the buses after those trips. To me, that was the most emotional part of the whole thing.”

Schafer is no stranger to disasters. Following 9/11, he served for nine months at Ground Zero in New York as coordinator of chaplains for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Schafer and fellow Assemblies of God Chaplain James Occhipinti Jr. were the only two AG ministers in the area already trained to help in a crisis zone. Much has changed.

In response to requests from AG pastors across New Jersey, Schafer founded ALPHA Critical Incident and Stress Management Team. Nearly half of the 80 members are Assemblies of God ministers, with pastors from other denominations also receiving training for disaster response.

ALPHA now functions as the official response team of the Assemblies of God New Jersey District. Schafer is working with the AG New York District to establish a similar service, and he anticipates opportunities for cooperation with the Pennsylvania-Delaware and Potomac districts.

“Ministering in trauma and disaster is totally different from dealing with the common issues of the local church,” Schafer says. “What do you say? How do you relate to these people? What don’t you say? What’s going to help them? What’s not going to help them?”

Schafer likes to call the chaplaincy an “out of the box” ministry, and disaster response is just one expression of that outreach. He serves four fire and four police departments, a first-aid squad, and is in his 24th year giving the invocation at Dover (Del.) International Speedway for NASCAR races.

Schafer and his wife, RuthAnn, celebrate 49 years of marriage this year. The plight of families in harm’s way has always tugged at his heart. He notes parents can make all the difference in the safety of their children both physically and spiritually.

As Superstorm Sandy approached the East Coast last October, Schafer remembers, people were warned for several days to leave their homes if they were in a danger zone. But because similar warnings for Hurricane Irene in 2011 had not been followed by severe damage, many people ignored the call to evade Sandy. Hundreds of lives were lost. Parents who ignored the warning put their families in grave danger.

“People were in denial,” Schafer says. “Denial caused loss of life, just like denying the Lord’s coming and denying the signs of the times is costing people their eternal life.”

Dan and RuthAnn are in their 25th year pastoring at Calvary Assembly of God in Hightstown, N.J.

For more information on Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Ministries, email

SCOTT HARRUP is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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