The blazing heat was ruthless as we stood in the shadow of an industrial building. The lifeless body of a young man lay on the sidewalk just a few feet away. A slow trickle of blood rolled toward the flowerbed from beneath the white sheet. Officials swirled around us in a methodic precision that only comes from facing this gruesome duty countless times. In synchronized harmony, officers secured the scene, forensics gathered data, and detectives interviewed witnesses as the coroner prepared for the transport.
Coworkers of the young man gathered on the sidewalk, sobbing in disbelief over the shocking death they just witnessed. It is hard to know what to say, if there is anything to say at all. We cannot remove or even mitigate their pain, but we can stake ourselves next to them with a love and comfort that needs no vocabulary or prior relationship.
As Chaplains, our role is to show up not with the equipment of the officers we serve, with a calming and compassionate presence and message. Each “call out” is another walk with someone through their worst day. Each scene brings another critical moment to hold a young child who discovered their deceased parent, steady an officer who is struggling through the dark times, pray with that detective whose strength is waning from years of hunting the most depraved in our society. Or, in the situation that started this article, it’s listening as friends cry out for answers to the “why him”, “why now”, “how could this happen” the “what if” and “if only’s” that will haunt each survivor for years to come.
Those situations leave us realizing our inability to comfort at a depth that only God can reach. Christians have the promise of supernatural comfort from the Holy Spirit (John 14:26-27), but seldom do we know the spiritual condition of anyone on scene. Standing over a body is no time to make assuming statements about someone’s life, character or destiny. We can however use our arms to hold the hurting, our minds to utter prayer, in tears we join their grief and give words of compassion and comfort that rise out of the Scriptures (Psalms 23, 84:11; Lamentations 3:21-24; Romans 8:35-39).
At every scene, my respect increases for our police officers, detectives, EMT’s, paramedics and fire fighters. What they experience in one shift is enough to cripple the minds of most mortals. Each ride along or call out brings another opportunity to care for a survivor, the grieving, and most often, the first responder. It is being always ready to give comfort, a listening ear and a pathway of hope. It is being a sounding board for the challenges officers face on and off duty, and be a buffer to serve the traumatized in the moment while the officers do their work.
Is Chaplaincy for you? Maybe, maybe not. It is not for those expecting to solve every problem encountered, who crave personal importance or thrive on information. It is for those who are willing to serve those who protect and serve everyone else. It is for those who are quick to hear and slow to speak, who bring the unchanging hope and enduring love of Jesus Christ to chaotic, dynamic environments. It is for those with a tremendous capacity to love others and especially for those preparing for full time ministry. I live in Louisville, and get to work with students from Southern Seminary and Boyce College who serve in hospitals, rescue missions, retirement homes, crisis pregnancy centers, jails and many more. Students come to this Institution to prepare for a life of ministry, and while here, they serve in churches and outreach opportunities all across our city where they are trusted to speak the truth in love.
The same is likely true in your city. Around you are probably jails, homeless shelters, and hospitals. They likely have needs for volunteers to serve, to listen, to support, and to tell people about Jesus.
In our fallen world, the velocity of devastating circumstances never relents. The results of chaplaincy work are not some grandiose scene of spiritual victory. The darkness of each night is a harsh reminder that across town families are grieving their new reality. Our goal is to bear up under those we serve, telling them of God’s love and kindness that is only found in Jesus Christ (Romans 2:4).
Next time you drive past the scene of an accident, see a police car responding to a call, or talk to that officer you know, take a moment to pray for God’s grace and mercy on what they encounter on and off duty. When you do talk with one, thank them for their courage to restrain evil and enforce the law. Let them know they are prayed for as they fulfill a role that is established by God (Romans 13:1-4). If you are able to do more, consider volunteering in your community.
This article originally appeared here.