Saturday at 8:30 a.m. is a time when most teenagers across Charlotte, N.C., are still warmly tucked under their covers, soon to wake up and begin homework, sports practice or video games. As the sun rises on this crisp morning, however, more than 100 young people are beginning to arrive at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters, carrying coffee and water bottles, breakfast biscuits and backpacks.
For these students, this wasn’t going to be just another Saturday. They were there to face grief and trauma head on, learning how to appropriately respond to their friends when they deal with tragedies in their lives.
The teens were taking part in the first student-oriented training ever sponsored by the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, a nationwide network of crisis-trained chaplains who are prepared to deploy at a moment’s notice to respond to the emotional and spiritual needs that result from man-made and natural disasters.
Following the mine explosion in Montcoal, W.Va. earlier this year that killed 29 miners, Preston Parrish, Executive Vice President of Ministry for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, along with his wife Glenda and teenage daughter JesseRuth, traveled from Charlotte to the disaster site to stand alongside the survivors, families and Billy Graham Rapid Response Teams chaplains that had deployed.
“While we were there, JesseRuth had the opportunity to minister to a child who had a family member killed in the blast,” said Parrish. “It really opened our eyes to the importance of young people reaching out to other young people and the significance of appropriately equipping teens to minister peer-to-peer in that way.”
JesseRuth relayed her story to the other students at the training, which took place Saturday, November 13. She challenged the teens to let go of whatever is holding them back and make an impact in the life of someone around them who’s hurting.
“It may be as simple as sitting down with a child and coloring a picture with them. First of all, coloring is awesome,” she said, to smiles from the audience. “And second, it can open the door for an opportunity to offer hope.”
Over the course of the training, students listened to seminars featuring practical information, like what to expect in a grief situation and what are the right and wrong things to say. They also participated in role-playing scenarios and watched skits and several videos to reinforce the key points.
There were many reasons teens wanted to be trained to share the hope of Christ in a crisis. “I’m starting a mission impact team at my school right now and I have a really strong passion for people – especially people that are going through hard times,” said one young lady. “And I think something like this will help you understand the questions you can ask and how you can respond to what they’re going through, because there are some times when you’re left with no answers.”
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Working with their peers and friends to bring them from despair to hope was a recurring theme for those who took the training. “This program is a way for me to be able to share Jesus and my faith through crisis, and in the world I think that there’s a lot of hurt and there’s a lot of pain,” said another student. “Through this training I’m really able to connect with people and share my faith and the hope that I have, especially when they’re left with no hope at all.”
“We are very encouraged by what we’ve seen here today,” said Jack Munday, director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, upon conclusion of the training. “These students have a strong and real faith with a desire to share God’s hope with classmates and friends in tough times.”
At the conclusion of the day-long seminar, about 70 percent of the attendees expressed an interest in applying to be official student chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team and deploying in the wake of disasters, particularly in situations where young people were widely affected by the tragedy.
The ministry will hold additional trainings for teens next year, with locations to be announced after the first of the year. “This is something we will pursue further, because we have now seen how passionately and seriously these kids took this training. This wasn’t just something fun to do on a Saturday. This was ministry preparation which will help them go out and appropriately respond to the emotional and spiritual needs of those around them,” said Munday.
As she was leaving, one of the students shared, “I definitely think that in our society today they’ve really degraded the teenager and said that we’re not supposed to accomplish anything; and I think this has really given me the confidence to go out and be able to help people and actually do something for Christ and see change in this world.”
About the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team is a nationwide network of chaplains across 40 states that are specifically trained to deal with crisis situations. Since the ministry was launched in 2002, it has deployed following dozens of natural and man-made disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and shootings. Visit www.billygraham.org/rrt or www.facebook.com/BGRapidResponseTeam for more information.