When Rapid Response Team deployment manager Al New pulls into Louisiana later today, it will be like coming home. The chaplain and his wife, Toni, spent an enormous amount of time ministering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—so much time, in fact, that the fire chief in St. Bernard’s Parish poured a concrete slab next to his home to host the couple’s camper.
And that is where Al and Toni will stay as they assess adjoining Plaquemines Parish. As the first RRT chaplains to respond in the wake of Isaac, they’ll come face-to-face with raw emotion. “I already know what we are going to see,” said Al. “People will be hurting, suffering, scared. They will be uncertain of what tomorrow will bring or even where they will sleep tonight.”
For Toni, seeing such emotion stirs her own: “I know that what I’m going to see in the Gulf is going to touch me because I love the people there. I’ve been in their homes and I’ve seen that they’ve rebuilt and that everything’s new again, and now they’re going through it again.”
The couple joined the Rapid Response Team in 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina surged inland, affecting multiple states and causing massive devastation to homes, churches, businesses and the economy in 2005. More than 1,800 people lost their lives in what became the costliest natural disaster in the nation’s history.
And now there is Isaac.
Al and Toni will once more come alongside those who are suffering and lost everything and bring them hope. “We will show them the love of Jesus Christ,” said Al. “The biggest thing we can offer people is hope. They need someone to hear their stories, to love on them, and pray with them.
“We also come alongside the National Guard, firemen and emergency responders to encourage them and let them know they are appreciated.”
As a retired firefighter, Al has a heart to reach out to other firemen. Toni’s background as a professional counselor equips her to listen with a trained ear. “Being a chaplain gives my life such purpose because I know that I’m reaching people in their pain and in their suffering and then I see a smile on their face and I know God has brought hope,” said Toni, wiping her eyes.
According to RRT Director Jack Munday, when the chaplains arrive, they will meet people who will be in shock, crying, confused, disoriented and some will be angry. But most everyone will be suffering with intense grief from the loss of personal possessions, homes, communities and dreams.”
Anyone who experiences a loss in life also experiences grief, Munday continued. “With that said, it’s important to know that grief is like a finger print. Everyone will grieve a little differently. For some the emotions of grief may be immediate, for others, it could be delayed.”
As chaplains seek to provide emotional and spiritual care after Isaac, they will talk to all kinds of people with varied positions on faith, God and religion. “Some survivors, who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, will look to the Lord for their hope and strength right away,” said Munday. “For them, they will find peace and comfort in the midst of their recovery.
“Others will turn to frustration, fear, anger, and possibly cast blame on others and even God. Their struggle will typically be much longer with the potential to have many destructive side effects,” Munday added. “Some will ask the God questions to find hope and comfort. For them, they will find peace and assurance in Christ who promised to comfort the weary and brokenhearted.”
In all cases, RRT chaplains will minister with gentleness and respect, and will be prepared to share the hope and comfort that only Jesus Christ can provide.
Additional reporting by Tiffany Jothen
Read Billy Graham’s statement from Hurricance Katrina »
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