A Biblical Example of Public Safety and Disaster Relief Chaplaincy

This page is a biblical example of care in an emotional and spiritual crisis. It is a message for the new or experienced chaplain alike. The information contained below is to encourage any chaplain calling to their chaplaincy ministry.

Public Safety and Disaster Relief Chaplaincy are two positive Biblical responses to people who are in crisis as a result of traumatic experiences. Public safety and disaster incidents bring on a similar type of reaction in people. There are people who have the resilience to survive despite the type of experience. The mind’s reaction to physical and emotional trauma is similar in most people. There is a natural instinct to survive, however some people react to the posttraumatic pressure differently. Some fare well and some are in need of someone being there to comfort and listen. Some may need professional counseling. The charge of the chaplain is to bring a ministry of presence to the survivor in the critical moments after an incident.

We have all gone through some kind of crisis in our lives. In our experience we may gain the ability to be empathetic and compassionate. Chaplains are trained in being empathetic and compassionate in their dealings with victims of traumatic incidents.

Chaplains who serve in Police Shomreem Ministries attend certain disaster and crisis trainings above and beyond their other ministry training. Our chaplains attend and complete trainings in Disaster Relief Protocol, Disaster Relief Chaplaincy, Critical Incident Stress Management and FEMA required disaster response. The trainings that we attend are with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief of the North American Mission Board, The Salvation Army Disaster Services, the American Association of Christian Counselors and the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. The attendees receive certificates of completion from these trainings. Continuing Education Units are earned each year for chaplaincy and counseling specific trainings. Our chaplains are encouraged to keep up to date with their professional training needs.

We use sound Biblical concepts to minister in times of need. There are examples for survival in the Bible. We use these principles to minister sound advice and comfort to those who suffer from traumatic experiences. Those sound Biblical principles go along with and are foundational to post crisis intervention. We use the basic principles of faith and mental health care to minister to people in need. We may be the only help a person finds or receives after the incident.

There is a great example in the Bible about taking care of someone in crisis or suffering from negative traumatic experiences. This example is found in an illustration taught in Luke chapter 10 verses 25 to 37. The teaching is called the parable of the Good Samaritan. A young lawyer asked the question, "And who is my neighbor?" In Genesis chapter 4: verse 9 God asked Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" Abel answered, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" In Luke chapter 10 an answer was given. We are to love the Lord and our neighbor as the Good Samaritan.

Today we find that there are certain types of physical, emotional and spiritual care that a person in crisis needs soon after experiencing a traumatic event. The quickness of survival and recovery can be dependent on a rapid response by a chaplain. There are ten responses to these needs that are necessary in the first 24 to 48 hours after the traumatic experience. This is commonly taught to crisis intervention workers and critical incident stress management workers. Formally or informally chaplains fall into this category of first responders. George S. Everly, Jr. Ph.D; Jeffrey T. Mitchell, Ph.D; Kevin Ellers, D.Min; and Jennifer Cisney, M.A; all teach that certain needs must be met to start the way to recovery.

In 1970 Abraham Maslow, PhD. identified five levels of need within human existence. This is called the “Hierarchy of Needs.” This hierarchical structure of needs is often illustrated in a pyramid. Dr. Maslow places safety after the physiological needs. In most critical incidents food, water and shelter are not needed until the immediate danger is removed or the person is taken out of danger to a safe place. Next is the need for medical and emotional safety. Then we can assess the need for the level of further assistance with emotional and spiritual care.

The ten post traumatic experience needs are:

  1. Physical safety is the first response that must be met by the care giver. Removing the person from the danger or visual experience of the traumatic event is paramount. The safety of the survivor and the care giver should be the first response. This response should be as soon after the event as possible. This safety also pertains to the medical treatment of the survivor as well as the beginning of emotional and spiritual treatment of the unseen wounds. The Good Samaritan went to the wounded man and "felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds.” Often the medical needs have been met and the first response is to connect with the person.
  2. The next step is assessment and triage. We must look for the injuries that are above and beyond the obvious ones. We must take care to sooth the pain of the experience. The Good Samaritan used oil and wine to sooth the immediate pain and sterilize the area from risk of infection. Assessing the survivors needs as soon after first contact will tell the care giver what is needed to further help the way to recovery. Chaplaincy or emotional and spiritual care, are about helping to start the healing from those injuries that are not seen outwardly.
  3. The assessment has illustrated the emotional, mental and physical ability to cope with the experience. The next step is to meet the practical and physiological needs of the survivor. The Good Samaritan “put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn.” This is about starting a recovery and rehabilitation process. The man was transported to shelter where he was cared for while recovering. As in Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” food, water, safety and shelter should be provided for the recovery to proceed.
  4. People who experience traumatic events need to know what actually happened. The need for information is crucial to the survivor. As we react to a traumatic event we quickly develop enhanced sensory awareness, and are attention focuses on the present danger or event experience. We start processing incoming data at a higher rate as when we are in a comfortable environment. Memory is enhanced but there is a multitude of data coming in that seems to run together. During the event, time seems to stand still and there is a temporary cessation of emotional reactions other than the fight or flight reaction. At this point people need to know what happened and if it happened. They need to know the facts as to what occurred, how it started, when it started and what happened that they missed. Secondary victims need to know what happened as they did not directly experiencing the event. The example of a secondary victim is that of a family member of a mine cave-in or collapse. In this case good information is food for survival.
  5. The Good Samaritan “took care of him.” This is one of the most important functions of a chaplain. This is called a ministry of presence. This stage, in the process of recovery, is where the chaplain or crisis worker sits with the survivor and lets them know that they are there. This is a time for the victim to vent or sit in the silence of thought. This is a time when the survivor can ask questions about why. Why did it happen or why did it happen to them? They may also ask, why did God let it happen? This is a time when the survivor needs to hear the question from their own mouth. They usually don’t expect answers and in most cases they don’t want the care giver to voice their opinion. They still need facts and they are looking for truth or they are just overwhelmed with grief. Simply being there is the most important thing we can do to care for them.
  6. After they process all the information about the event, they need information on what to do next, where to go for help. Developing a plan for survival and recovery is a main concern. The Good Samaritan returned, "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him”. This was the next step in the recovery process. It was what we call in chaplaincy, a referral.
  7. Venting is essential. The process of venting is the start of pressure release. Venting should be directed in a positive path. Telling the story of what happened will clean much of the poison out of the system.
  8. Spiritual care is another step in a chaplain’s work with the survivor. Prayer should be involved before, during and after the contact. Prayer works and when the person in crisis knows that someone is praying. They usually feel better. It has been proven that prayer helps in times of physical and emotional trauma. Sometimes a person will ask for prayer and sometimes the chaplain will ask if they can pray for the person. The response is usually affirmative and positive. This is a time when the chaplain can be an encourager to the survivor. This is also a time when the chaplain can ask God to intercede. As chaplains we believe that healing comes from the One who created all things. If He created it He can fix it. Nothing is too small or too big for God. The best example is the universe. The universe is so big and we are so small in comparison. In this large universe God created man and the ant alike. So small is the ant, but God cared enough to create this small wonderful creature that has an essential function on our small planet. If God created it He cares for it.
  9. Building a sense of hope is next in the road to recovery. Survivors need to know that they can recover and be able to move beyond the crisis. They need to be encouraged not to doubt that recovery is a process of healing.
  10. Continued care is essential for the survivor. In the short time the first responder is with this person the basics of healing have been started. This short time that the chaplain has with the survivor is not the end. The good Samaritan said to the innkeeper, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.” It is not our job to financially support the survivor, but it is important to refer this person to someone who can continue helping with the healing process. We chaplains have the option to refer a person to a mental health professional like a licensed counselor or a Psychiatrist. In some cases we have the option to refer this person to a local congregation where they can be a part of a spiritually motivated support group or a minister who is trained in counseling. We chaplains can also initiate a follow-up visit to see how the person is doing.

Chaplains work in an assessment and triage part of the first hours or first few days after the critical incident is experienced. A counselor can help a person suffering through crisis during further counseling sessions. Chaplains work for God and God has the power to create, rebuild and heal. Man can do his best to repair the wounded body, but God has the ability to cause the body to heal. God and faith in His supply and healing power will cause healing and recovery of the soul. The emotions of a person can be driven by the experiences that cause doubt or they can be driven by faith in God that loves us so much. God gave us His Holy Word in the Bible and instructs us that living by this Word will lead to true salvation, healing and recovery.

The principles of chaplaincy are illustrated in Luke chapter 10 verses 25-37. In fact we are our brother’s keepers. Two or three strands of rope are harder to break that one.

Biblical References

Luke 10:25-37 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" 27 And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 28 And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." 29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho , and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' 36 "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" 37 And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

Genesis 4:9 Then the LORD said to Cain, " Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

The above information came from public reference, works of training materials, printed and web articles and other printed material. The material and content came from the following:

The Holy Bible, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief of the North American Mission Board; The Salvation Army Disaster Services; American Association of Christian Counselors; International Critical Incident Stress Foundation and Chaplain Ric Worshill (PSM)