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Finding HOPE on the line

When most natural disasters strike, The Salvation Army is among the first on the scene with food, water, hugs of support, and spiritual and emotional care.

The Army calls it the “Ministry of Presence” and trains its volunteers to be compassionate listeners and encouragers. But what happens when COVID–19 keeps them from being present?

Officers, retired officers, employees, and volunteers across the United States have joined forces to form The Salvation Army’s Spiritual and Emotional Care Hotline (or HOPEline), which is available from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. ET at 1-844-458-HOPE. The hotline’s theme is “We’re Here to Listen.”

“This is a very different disaster than any of us have ever experienced and we wanted to be able to offer spiritual and emotional care,” explained Major Jerry Friday, the secretary for mission and cultural ministry in USA South. “We had to figure out how to do that virtually because we couldn’t be there to give somebody a bottle of water or a hug or cleaning supplies. We couldn’t be there to pray with them.”

Friday said 89 “operators” are currently on the schedule to accept calls on their personal phones. That number includes 47 people from USA East.

“When someone calls in, their call is directed to individual cell phones. These people are just there to listen, to offer encouragement, and to pray with the callers,” Friday said.

The hotline averages 20 to 40 calls a day during the week and 15 to 20 calls on weekends.

Friday said a caller’s ID stays off the operator’s phone. The operator also remains anonymous to the caller.

“It’s all confidential,” Friday said.

Friday receives daily reports from the people taking calls.

“Right now, the majority of the individuals who are calling us are senior citizens who are really struggling because the media is telling them that they are at high risk,” Friday said. “Many of them are living in fear and pretty much alone. Their families are not able to come visit them. We have a few senior citizens who are calling every single day or evening.”

Friday took calls himself until stepping back recently to manage the hotline.

“I took calls from single moms who are trying to manage their family, homeschool their children, and try to stay sane,” Friday said. “We offer to pray with anyone who calls and to my knowledge no one has said no.

“I took several calls from individuals who have struggled with addictions in the past and this has pushed them right back to the edge. We’ve had to refer some people to the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC). The difficult part is many of our centers are closed. We have been able to find a few that would accept a new patient and people have gotten on buses and ridden across the country to get into a center.”

A sampling of the reports sent to Friday showed a wide range of caller concerns, including a man looking to get into an ARC.

“When we finished the conversation, he was crying and said to me that he just needed someone to tell him he was doing the right thing and that he was worth saving,” the man’s operator wrote. “We had a little prayer and I am hoping that he made it to the center.”

A Philadelphia woman called and “just needed someone to listen to her. She has numerous physical challenges and mental health issues,” the report said. The caller is working less and “worried about having enough money to survive, make car payments, and pay her insurance. She admittedly watches too much news and it’s making her more afraid.”

The operator who took her call wrote, “I was able to encourage her regarding all the things that haven’t been impacted by the virus—God’s position on His throne, the beauty of nature unfolding around us, the sun rising and setting since the first day God commanded it to rise and set. By the end of the call, she was glad she had called, thanked me for my help, and we ended the call with a word of prayer.”

Another woman called who said she had just come home from the grocery store, which she referred to as a “war zone” She had called because she simply “needed someone to talk to.”

Another caller, a woman with a 2–year–old child, was looking for diapers, food, and gasoline assistance.

Friday said as word has spread about the hotline, many people are calling looking for assistance. The Salvation Army has partnered with social work interns from Fordham University in New York to handle the calls for material assistance.

“That frees up our 89 emotional and spiritual care operators just to take the phone calls from people who are lonely and who are struggling with spiritual and emotional matters and trying to get through this crazy crisis,” Friday said.

“It’s been a learning experience, but every day has been a blessing.”

by Robert Mitchell

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