A Chaplain’s Promise
Meeting people at their point of need, particularly in the midst of tragedy, can be one of the most important aspects of being a Salvation Army officer.
In June of 2015, when I arrived at my first appointment in Derry, N.H., I promised myself that I would be a pastor to all the people who walk into our corps and to everyone in the community. Serving as corps officer (pastor) along with the additional role of chaplain for the Derry Fire Department has allowed me the opportunity to keep that promise. As chaplain, I was privileged to speak at the 9/11 ceremonies for the department during my first year. And I performed the opening and closing prayers at celebrations and when firemen were promoted.
Less than a month into my appointment as chaplain, I received a call at midnight about a fire in town. At that point, the severity of the fire was a mystery. And I was nervous. I thought, what do I wear? What do I bring? What do I say?
A major part of the chaplain’s role is to provide spiritual, practical, and emotional support to the firemen for the duration of a difficult fire. Such fires typically take days before they are brought to an end.
A chaplain can assist by offering coffee, water, and snacks. Or he or she can be an encouraging presence for the men and women of the fire department and the affected families.
That’s what I was prepared to do.
When I arrived, the firemen told me about Rex and his wife, an elderly couple that owned the house. Both were wheelchair bound, and had lived there for 40 years. For the past 15 years, they rarely traveled beyond the front door.
Rex stayed on the first floor and his wife resided on the second floor where the fire started. The firemen believe that a flame had struck her oxygen tank, which ignited. Rex saw the flames consume the second floor and make their way down the stairs, but he was powerless to stop them. He was able to make it out of the house, but his wife perished in the flames.
I went to the hospital where doctors were treating Rex for smoke inhalation. It was still too soon for him to fully comprehend and accept the reality of what had happened and who and what he had lost. “I’m a pastor,” I told him. He made it clear to me that he was not a believer.
This was the first time in my life that I had been in such a situation. I was consoling someone who had lost almost everything. As much as I wanted to, I knew there was nothing I could say to make his pain disappear. So I made him a promise that I would be there for him, and I would pray for him.
During the next few days, Rex would call me via public phone to update me on what he was doing and how he was getting along. He told me how charity organizations helped retrieve his belongings that had survived the fire. He was making plans in the coming weeks to move in with his sister in Ohio. And he asked me to continue to pray for him. This man, a non–believer, was reaching out to me for prayer.
Officership is a unique adventure. In the opportunities and challenges that arise, the reality is that those magical words that will immediately help someone after a tragedy escape us. But as officers, we must continue to trust and seek God, even if people affected by calamity, at that moment, resist His love.
As a pastor, I must trust God that He will lead me to people who need me the most. And that He will equip me with the words, wisdom, and strength for every situation.
I must believe in God’s strength rather than in my own.
by Lieutenant Kathryn Mayes