The light-pulsing, vibrating device on the nightstand could only mean one thing—a call for help. I was in the waning hours of a 24-hour on-call shift. “Restricted” read the caller ID, confirming my hunch. “Chaplain, we need you.”
There is nothing routine about these calls, other than talking to God on the 20-minute drive to an address now etched into my mind. Police cars are in the street. Family members are in a cramped apartment as friends and neighbors cycle in and out. Officers stand by—waiting, watching, wondering.
The Medical Examiner is at least an hour away in a neighboring community, performing the task that the ME does best. As I walk through the door, I’m already doing a chaplain’s triage. Who called for me? How can I help? What questions can I ask. . .and answer? How do I gently guide them along the pathway of decisions that they need to make in a short period of time? Do they have a faith community, and can I connect them with it? These questions and more will shape the next few hours of my interaction with these people that God has prepared for me to meet.
Few people wake up in the morning imagining that today will be the day a loved one or a friend will be called from this life. God’s jets to eternity do not run on our schedule and normally arrive without warning. So many wish for more time. One more cup of coffee and conversation before we are called home. Too often, though, that never happens.
This case is no different. There are regrets, conversations of forgiveness stuck in hearts and throats—unspoken, because a person thought there would always be more time. “Chaplain, can I talk to you privately about this?” God sometimes opens doors for us to share our comfort in Jesus. In fact, he always opens doors for us to show the love of Jesus on what may be the worst day of someone’s life up to that point. But we never know just how long or how short our time here will be. “Speak now or forever hold your peace” is a lesson repeated many times a week.
Before I know it, the Medical Examiner has come. She has finished her work. The funeral home is called and we assist when they arrive. Both the ME and those from the funeral home know that we will meet again, perhaps in only a few hours! All the more reason for us to take time to debrief and to care for our own emotional and psychological health, since one cannot serve the grieving without absorbing some of the hurt.
The streets are almost empty when I make my way back home. I thank God for helping me to serve our first responders and those who are hurting with the love of the Savior Jesus.
Little did I realize that the start of my week would lead to so much heartache: an officer down, ambushed by a gunman; anxious moments, but God’s holy angels were guarding and protecting; his backup there at just the right time, protecting and saving a life. God blessed the hands of the surgeons, doctors, nurses, and all others assisting. He answered a resounding “YES” to the many prayers. There was an outpouring of love, care, and concern for the officer and his family from relatives and friends. The community has shown an amazing amount of love also. Lives were changed in that instant. There was a defusing with the officers and a Critical Incident Debrief planned and carried out. A chaplain needs to be available to talk, to listen, to be there for support.
Fred Voss serves the saints at Shepherd of the Hills, Anchorage, Alaska, and also serves the city’s citizens and first responders as a chaplain for the fire and police departments. He covets your prayers for the first responders there and where you live.
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