Kelly Burke calls it a “watershed moment.”
And not in a good way.
Near the end of his 25-year career with the Tallahassee Police Department, one of his sergeants was shot and killed responding to a home robbery.
“When he was killed it rocked my world,” said Burke of the Nov. 13, 2002 incident. “It really threw so many officers for a loop too. It rocked their foundations.”
Burke spoke at the heartbreaking funeral and recognized something in himself that day that would shape the second half of his life.
“I just really was noticing the emotional toll that people went through,” said Burke, who retired in 2007. “I had become more sympathetic toward people.”
Burke had worked his way up from burglary to narcotics to sergeant to lieutenant before retiring as captain at the young age 47.
But now what?
Born and raised in Tallahassee, Burke had spent his final years in the investigations unit dealing with the victims.
“The whole time God was preparing me for full-time ministry,” Burke said.
And not just one ministry, but two.
Burke’s full-time post-retirement job is as assistant pastor of Calvary Chapel Tallahassee. But his job affords him the flexibility to serve as one of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Chaplain Coordinators.
The transition was natural for Burke, who had plenty of experience of dealing with people during times of crisis.
“I was a retired police officer and because of that my church showed me a brochure one time for Rapid Response training at Calvary Chapel in Philadelphia,” Burke said. “Every time I heard about the training, it sounded like something that would be very appealing to me.”
Little did Burke know, his experience with the police force would catapult him quickly into ministry action.
In the fall of 2009, his first deployment was to the Dallas, Ga., flood, a small deployment that was wrapped up in less than a week.
But then the earthquake struck in Haiti.
In January of 2010, Rapid Response Team chaplains were quickly sent in to provide hope and comfort in the horrific Haiti aftermath and Burke’s resume long on emergency response experience was leaned on heavily during the first weeks.
“They thought someone who had some street experience might be beneficial,” said Burke, who spent five weeks in Haiti, including three in the initial stages.
But all the years of police work could not completely prepare him for what he would encounter in Haiti.
“Oh my goodness,” Burke recalled those weeks. “People were just full of fear, full of doubt, full of worry, full of anxiety.”
But Burke was full of the Spirit and found himself being used all over the devastated country.
“I know the ministry is bathed in prayer.”
Burke often times quotes John 10:10, one of his favorite Scriptures, to those who are hurting after a storm has ripped their life apart: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
“I’m really just helping people absorb that thought,” Burke said. “Yes we live in a sinful world. Yes, there’s tragedy. But that’s not God’s plan for us. He sent His Spirit to abide with us, even now.”
For Burke, his time as a Rapid Response chaplain has been one of the most rewarding experiences his faith has encountered. Even if that means time away from his wife Nancy.
“Just seeing God’s grace touch someone right in front of you,” said Burke, who has two kids, Sarah, 23, and Ryan, 15. “And you watch people just get it and you see it in their eyes.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
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