Even Most Seasoned Chaplains, First Responders Shaken

By   •   December 18, 2012

This is a deployment no Billy Graham chaplain could have ever fathomed.

Call it tragic. Or horrific.  Or unspeakable. But the reality of what happened in an innocent elementary school in Newtown, Conn., is something this community will have to forever endure.

By Friday night, 10 crisis-trained chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team were on the ground in Newtown. And some of the first people they crossed paths with were the First Responders, who were still dealing with shock at the scene inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Nobody needs to know what I saw,” chaplain Toni New replayed what a First Responder told her.  “Nobody needs to know.”

The challenge in dealing with such unexpected carnage is taking its toll on the public servants of this town and that’s one area the chaplains have tried to focus their ministry on.

“They’ve never encountered anything of this magnitude in terms of being this bizarre and brutal and large-scale,” chaplain Jack Dowling, a retired police officer, said. “This is really a challenge for even seasoned law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics.”

Toni, who is also a licensed counselor, has been to other shooting deployments, including Aurora, Colo., this past summer, but she said she’s not experienced anything like Newtown. One of the first people she talked and prayed with was a detective who had been in the school interviewing those connected to the tragedy.

“He seemed to have a need to pour out what he was carrying,” Toni recalled. “The information was really disturbing and difficult for me, so know it was hard for him.

“I was able to pray with him. I gave him a hug and I could see that brought some comfort.”

But the chaplains are very mindful of respecting people’s boundaries, especially in a deployment this sensitive.

“Being a chaplain means you have to be willing to listen and you have to ask the right questions and not impose on them personally,” Toni said. “Ask what they’re thinking about and what they’re feeling and [then you will know] what direction to take.”  

Chaplains have to understand the importance of “not imposing on them and not hugging without asking,” she added. “But getting permission to get into their space. And when you get that permission and you see that smile of gratefulness, you know that somehow that touch brought them comfort and something you did or said brought hope to them.”

As trained and experienced as they are, these chaplains have never encountered this type of deployment. And being able to experience the touch of God working through them helps them make it through each day.

“It’s just such a shock to even our seasoned chaplain coordinators,” Jack said. “It’s only by the grace of the Lord, who has called us to do this, that we are able to wrap our minds around the brutality and the senselessness and evil in this situation.”

The mission of the chaplains this week is to take those evil thoughts captive and remind each person they encounter that there is hope and comfort out there and His name is Jesus.

“People can’t believe this happened in this beautiful little small town,” Toni said. “There’s still a lot of shock. And I think we’re going to see a lot of anger.”

And that extends to the First Responders, who are still focused on serving Newtown in a time when they are hurting themselves.

“Even talking with some of the police officers, they’re feeling like ‘my family could’ve been here,’” Toni said. “‘My family could’ve been the ones in the school.’”

Franklin Graham Statement on Shooting

Recent Rapid Response Team Deployments

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12 Comments

  1. jack says:

    after my own serious illnesses, i truly believe in God's angels – may God send his loyal and mighty legions of angels to hold the people of Newtown and may the Angel Gabriel and Michael, the Archangel bring you hope and comfort!!

  2. Deni says:

    I am so grateful that the Billy Graham chaplain team is there for those hurting people. They are spirit filled and caring people willing to give up their time for others. May God grant then strenght.

  3. Leonard says:

    Toni, and other chaplains deployed in Newtown:Know that our church and I are praying for you. God's strength will carry you through.

  4. Nita says:

    May God be with these chaplains. May God strengthen them and give them wisdom to help these hurting people.

  5. Dan says:

    We need you Lord God of heaven….we need you.

  6. Michael says:

    God assembled an amazing team of selfless Chaplains to a crisis that nobody could have ever predicted.We stand with you holding you all up in prayer and spirit as you minister comfort ,hope and peace.We love all you and are so very proud of you.

  7. karen says:

    I PRAY FOR TEAM THAT HAD TO GO AND DEAL WITH ALL THE PAIN AND SORROW, THEY SURELY FELT DEEP IN THEIR SOUL, MAY GOD BE WITH THEM ,AND THE FAMILIES OF THE ALL THE VICTIMS OF NEWTOWN. I STILL BELIEVE THAT THERE IS GOOD OUT THERE, GOD BLESS US ALL.

  8. diana says:

    Lord, thank you for those willing counselors from BGEA to go in and minister to those first responders. Thank you for their sensitivity to their “space” and what they are going through. Your mercies are new every morning and we are blessed!

  9. Debby says:

    May God put His comforting arms around you all, as you try to help those in mourning find some peace. Peace only the Lord can provide at a time like this. You are in our prayers.

  10. Alice says:

    God bless the Chaplains on the Billy Graham team with the words they need. And may His grace and mercy be with the hurting souls in Newtown and around the world during this holy season.