Spiritual caregivers minister to those impacted by disasters

Many of you are familiar with the work of Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief (DR). You’ve heard numerous stories about cutting trees, tarping roofs, cooking food and cleaning out houses after a flood. But are you familiar with the important work done by the volunteers who also serve as DR Chaplains?

DR is described as a ministry of the heart – caring people going to people in crisis to offer the help, healing, and hope of Jesus Christ. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of the DR chaplain.

From the SBC DR Chaplain training manual, we learn that Disaster Relief chaplaincy is a very specialized form of chaplain ministry. DR chaplains come from a variety of professions and ministries. They may be pastors, chaplains, counselors, teachers, social workers, or psychologists. Disaster Relief chaplains may also be laity—men and women who respond to God’s call upon their lives to provide care and compassion to hurting people during the crisis of disasters.

A vital aspect of disaster chaplaincy is the “ministry of presence.” In a time of great loss and devastation, survivors need to know that they are not alone. They need a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. DR chaplains offer not only their own presence, but also the presence of God. They provide His presence in time of crisis through prayer, listening, the spoken word, the Holy Scriptures, and service.

DR chaplains serve as spiritual caregivers through leading, guiding, sustaining, nurturing, and helping in healing and restoration. Their ministry is unique in that that they are most often called upon to minister to people they have never met before or do not know very well. They minister to people in crisis who very likely did not call them or choose them. They minister to a wide variety of cultural and ethnic groups of people with a wide range of religious traditions. Many of the people they minister to have no clue who or what a DR chaplain even is.

What does this ministry really look like? DR chaplains Shirley Jarvis and Jerry Bolander share their most memorable stories and give us a glimpse of what it’s like to serve in this ministry.

Shirley Jarvis

Shirley Jarvis and her husband Buzzy are DR chaplains and members of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock. After Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas in 2017, Shirley and her husband Buzzy deployed to do feeding for volunteers. They had just recently completed training for Feeding, Assessment and Chaplaincy.

After a week of serving, Shirley was ready to head home, but her husband wanted to stay and get some experience as an assessor. After taking Sunday off, they joined with an experienced assessor and went out to visit families all day on Monday. Most of the people they visited that first day professed to being believers.

On Tuesday, the group went to the home of a person named Guy. He was sitting in a wheelchair in the doorway of his home just waiting for them to arrive. As the group was getting out of the truck, they were greeted by a pit bull. Buzzy asked Shirley to stay in the truck because he knew she was afraid of dogs. After a few minutes alone in the truck, she decided to chance it and make her way to the house. Putting her fear aside, Jarvis bravely allowed her husband to escort her into the house.

When she entered the house, Shirley was introduced to Guy and he shared how he and his wife had survived the hurricane. They had been told to evacuate, but they did not have any money for gas and a hotel. As the storm blew through, they watched their roof blow off and could see the sky swirling overhead as windows broke out. Jarvis just listened as Guy recounted his experiences.

When Guy finished with his story, Jarvis asked him if he had a relationship with the Lord. He said, “No, but I would like to.” Jarvis was so excited that she could hardly believe her ears. She called the assessors over and they all prayed together.

Jarvis knew that God had been preparing Guy’s heart. “I didn’t do a thing. God did it all!” Jarvis said. She says it was a blessing to get to share in such a joyous moment with Guy. She was thankful that Buzzy had wanted to stay a few extra days. “I think it was God’s plan for us to be there. I even believe that God kept me in the truck until just the right time to go in. Nothing is more exciting than seeing someone come to Christ.”

Jerry Bolander

Jerry Bolander is a DR chaplain and a member of First Baptist Church in Rogers. Jerry shares that one of his greatest memories was from a deployment in May 2019 in Oklahoma.

The team started in Claremore, Oklahoma working the north side of Tulsa and then moved south to the Sapulpa, Bixby area where they worked in the yard of a family. The man of the house helped mentor and coach teenage boys in the area. Several of these boys hung around the house each day and helped the crew by dragging limbs and helping in any way they could.

The first evening after returning from the worksite, Bolander says he had a strong sense that God was working in the lives of these young men. He gathered his crew and encouraged them to find time to visit with the boys the next day as they were working. He wanted them to talk to the boys and share with them not only what the DR team was doing, but why they were there in the first place.

As the job grew to a close, the DR team prepared to hand out the Bible and pray for the homeowner. The whole group gathered together, including the man of the house and five boys. As Bolander shared about the Disaster Relief organization, the man shared that this was not the first time he had been helped by DR.

Prodded by the Holy Spirit, Bolander asked each man and boy if they wanted to follow Jesus. The man immediately said “Yes,” at which each boy also confirmed that they wanted to ask Jesus into their lives.

Bolander says he did not see the “follow me down the aisle” look on the boys faces. He believes that each young man saw a difference in the lives of each crew member over the two days that they were together and wanted to know the Jesus that they knew. To become a Disaster Relief Chaplain, all candidates are required to:

  1. fill out an application.
  2. supply two references.
  3. attend a regular Disaster Relief training event to become a credentialed volunteer. For more information on and to register for Disaster Relief training, please visit: https://abscdisasterrelief.org/about-training/
  4. have deployed at least once as a Disaster Relief volunteer.
  5. attend these two training events:
  6. CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) training. Specifically, the Emotional and Spiritual Care in Disaster Operations training
  7. Disaster Relief Chaplaincy Training

Disaster Relief chaplaincy is a calling. Do you think God may be calling you to provide spiritual and emotional care to persons impacted by disaster and deployed unit volunteers? Then contact ABSC Disaster Relief at kquimby@absc.org or call the office at – 501.376.4791 ext. 5249 or 800.838.2272 ext. 5249 for more information.

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