'You Can Feel Their Emotion'
Rapid Response Chaplains Fully Invested in N.C. Survivors
April 25, 2011 - Finding the right words to comfort homeowners who lost everything in the North Carolina tornadoes is challenging, although finding compassion is easy. But it often times comes with an emotional toll on the BGEA Rapid Response Team chaplains.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous (Psalm 112:4).
By Trevor Freeze
Comforting those who lost everything takes a person cut from a certain cloth. In the case of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, they’re known as Rapid Response Team chaplains.
And they’re very compassionate.
But seeing disaster after disaster, witnessing home-owners breaking down over the loss of – well, everything in some cases – doesn’t get routine.
The term “feeling your pain” is sometimes all too real.
“It’s hard when you’re standing there with your arm around them and they’re crying and you can feel their emotion,” said Marilyn Sides, deployed to the Raleigh, N.C., area, which had over 1,000 homes damaged and enough debris to fill a six-acre pond. “You want to bring comfort to them. And you know there’s nothing you can really say but give them the hope of Christ.”
Ken and Marilyn Sides have been working as BGEA chaplains since Katrina hit in 2005 and have seen many forms of destruction, including last year in Haiti.
And while they can’t fully understand what a survivor may be going through, they feel empathy and compassion, even though it can be emotionally draining.
“They’re just emotionally raw. They’ve experienced more than you can describe. They’ve experienced trauma. They’ve experienced heartache and heartbreak,” Ken Sides said. “Many of them are so hurt and distraught that they can’t even cry.”
Becca Dowling rarely experiences that. Deployed to the Windsor, N.C., area for last week’s tornado touchdowns, Becca isn’t one to always conceal her emotions.
It’s part of being human.
“As a chaplain, listening to so many heart-wrenching stories, stories of even death and destruction, loss and so much sadness, I have to admit, my heart grieves,” she said. “But that’s what Christ calls us to be grieving as those around us are grieving.”
It’s all about a process of mourning, then healing.
“I don’t have to hold it in,” Dowling said. “I’m a mediator between them and God for just this moment. And to remind them ultimately Christ is their mediator.”
FINDING GOD IN A CLOSET
There was no where to hide now. The storm was so close, they could feel it in their mobile home trailer.
So John* and his teenage son raced to the closet for shelter.
And as the two waited, John told his son, “I’ll see you wherever we end up.”
The storm hit hard, but the two survived.
Becca and Jack Dowling were able to talk to John and his son a couple days later.
“We had an opportunity to share the Good News of Christ with him and his son and they both commited their lives to Christ,” Jack said. “He commented afterward, he was sure now where he will end up at the end of his life. That being heaven. It was just a sweet moment.”
“He gave me one more chance,” Johnny said.
LOSING AN ENTIRE STORY
A firefighter for the Wake New Hope Fire Dept., Tim* had received a call to come to his house on the evening of Sept. 16.
The details were sketchy at best.
His son Ricky, who also works at the Fire Dept., had been sent off on another call during the storm and Jim’s mind started racing. Did something happen to Ricky?
Unable to get through the main road to his house, Tim had to take an alternate route, where he was met at the top of the hill and told that he shouldn’t drive the rest of the way to his house.
Preparing for the worst, Tim was driven to the end of the road, where the second story of his house had been torn off, resting besides the remainder of the home.
Tim was relieved beyond words. “I was on the verge of a freakout,” Tim said. “I thought it was Ricky.
“All of this is just stuff,” he said, standing in front of a yard full of debris. “As a 48-year-old who has seen a lot, you can tear up, you can cry, you can scream at God, but it’s not going to change anything.”
Tim knows there’s something bigger at play than just a tornado hitting his Raleigh, N.C., home.
“A friend of mine who just found the Lord came by and said 'I think the Lord is trying to tell you something,'” Jim said. “I’m getting to know him a lot better this week.” Marilyn and Ken Sides were there to help support Tim and his family. “You’re going to be prayed for and lifted up many times over,” Marilyn said.
* For reasons of confidentiality, we're using only the first name.
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