By Karen Willoughby, Managing Editor
LORANGER – A caring heart, listening ear and willing spirit are about all that are needed by people wanting to be trained as disaster relief chaplain volunteers.
Everything else can be added during two days of training.
[img_assist|nid=6135|title=James Carson is Disaster Relief Chaplains Coordinator and Chaplain Trainer|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=83|height=100]“It’s a magnificent ministry,” said DR Chaplains Coordinator and trainer James Carson. “We have a lot of people saved because of Disaster Relief responders.”
Angie Hurst of Kentwood was one DR chaplain with a story to tell, Carson said. She led one flood-stricken, 89-year-old man to the Lord, and the man led her to his wife. He wanted her to make the same decision, he said, so Hurst repeated her words to the woman and she too put her life in God’s hands.
Chaplaincy was one of several Disaster Relief training options that took place at Camp Living Waters in Loranger in late January and again at Temple Baptist Church in Ruston in early February.
Everyone sat in on the Basic Disaster Relief training, and then spread out to learn about his/her specific area of interest. DR volunteers can specialize in food preparation, shower/laundry, chain saw, mud out, water purification, communications, heavy equipment or assessment.
For a headstrong, full-steam-ahead person like me, it was good to hear the directives given in Basic Training.
Never self-deploy, even if you’re in the same town as the disaster. It’s people who go off on their own who get themselves or perhaps the organization as a whole in trouble.
The group of 10 Southern Baptists who went to Haiti to rescue children last month is a case in point that’s been touted in several recent articles on Baptist Press and elsewhere in the news. They went to Haiti on their own, did not adhere to the government’s rules and ended up in jail with a black eye for their churches and/or Southern Baptists as a whole. Eight were released after 21 days in jail; two remained incarcerated at presstime.
Use the chain of command. Most Disaster Relief volunteers wear yellow baseball-type caps. They give no orders; they make no decisions. Each unit except for chaplains – feeding unit, chain saw unit, and more – has one person in charge. He/She wears a blue cap. Chaplains serve under the direction of the blue cap they’re assigned to. One person is in charge of the entire disaster. He/She wears a white cap. The chain of command cuts down on confusion.
In Louisiana, Gibbie McMillan is the state director. He calls the area cordinators in Louisiana to inform them of the need for volunteers or the potential need for volunteers. The area coordinators call the unit directors. The unit directors call the volunteers.
One thing more about the chain of command. The state director calls the North American Mission Board if there is a DR need greater than that state can handle. NAMB has determined which states will respond first to disaster needs in which states. Louisiana probably would be among the first called to a Texas, Arkansas or Mississippi disaster.
Louisiana probably would not be among the first wave of DR volunteers called to Florida.
Each state that wants to, serves for a month on a rotating order of availability should there be an international disaster. That’s why Kentucky and Mississippi were the first to respond to Haiti, in addition to Florida, which has a long-established relationship with the nation.
Do not wear a Disaster Relief t-shirt or cap unless/until deployed. It is not casual-wear attire. It is a uniform.
Once these and a few other basic directives were given, the nearly 200 DR volunteer wannabes spread out to the various training areas. I was one of 25 in a classroom off the dining area at Camp Living Waters.
All but two who had pre-registered for DR Chaplaincy Training were present, and the missing ones both were down with health issues. I was impressed with that kind of turn-out in an era when changing your mind is considered an American perogative.
Disaster Relief Chaplaincy training takes more time than do the other DR units. Perhaps that is because the other units all are doing something – stirring a pot of beans, folding a load of laundry, felling a damaged tree – but chaplains are just to sit and listen, and offer an appropriate response when the time is right.
James Carson, director of missions for the Caldwell, Deer Creek and Richmond Baptist Associations, also is a nationally-recognized trainer for Disaster Relief chaplaincy, and regularly deploys.
“More young people are needed as Disaster Relief chaplains,” Carson said. “We’re appealing to young people to go.”
The word chaplain literally means “guardian of the cape,” referring to guarding something sacred. Chaplains are to provide a calm presence with nonjudgmental listening and caring intervention.
Chaplaincy at its heart is a ministry of presence. What can you say to a man who just lost not only all his things, but also all his hope and motivation? You can make a silent statement: “You are not alone.” That’s when the grief-healing tears start: when there is someone to hear them.
“Be aware of divine appointments,” Carson said. “The victim of a disaster often sees the chaplain as God’s representative and desires a word of prayer.
“Praying brings a sense of peace in the midst of chaos,” the trainer continued. That can be a good time to share God’s love and give them something to cling to.
People trained as DR chaplains are NOT qualified as a medical, police, industry or any other type of chaplain, Carson stressed. That takes even more training.
For more on Disaster Relief chaplaincy, contact Carson at email@example.com or call the Tri-association office: 318.435.6304.