Two years ago, John Kern spotted a notice about an annual chaplain training event in the mountains of North Carolina. He wondered, as he sat in his Modesto, Calif., office, if he would ever be able to go.
“I was always working,” said Kern. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll take a vacation from work or something.'”
That was in 2011. Feeling a tug on his heart to join the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, Kern penciled in the June 2013 chaplain retreat dates, not knowing how he would manage to get to the weeklong training in Asheville, N.C.
“I had it on my bulletin board for like, 15 months,” said Kern. “I kept praying. I’d look at it just about every day, and I’d think, ‘How is that gonna happen?'”
As he prayed, Kern began to sense that he was supposed to retire sooner than he had planned. The thought was a bit disconcerting; he had always intended to work until his wife could retire with him, but he couldn’t shake the idea that God had other plans.
A Heart for Disaster Ministry
The Rapid Response Team had been on Kern’s mind for years. He would read about the work the crisis-trained chaplains were doing around the United States and beyond.
“I’d read those articles, and I would weep,” said Kern. “Because what did Jesus do in his public ministry? Wherever the greatest need was, that’s where He went. I think the people in these situations have a great need, and I think it’s Jesus’ heart to reach out to them.”
The Lord confirmed Kern’s heart for disaster ministry when he traveled to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina with a group of volunteers from his church.
“Ever since then, it was like, I’ve got to do this,” said Kern.
Stepping Out in Faith
On May 3, 2013, after years of prayer, Kern resigned from his position as a federal investigator. A month later, he arrived at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, ready for training. His wife couldn’t make the trip with him, but his brother-in-law, Richard Mac David, was up for the adventure.
“I’ve been retired for five years,” said Mac David. “I’ve just been playing golf and helping my wife. I have a giving ministry, and I know that I’m a servant, but I’ve only served the golf course.”
Determined to grow their relationship with the Lord and learn more about disaster chaplaincy, the two brothers-in-law are spending the week taking courses that will get them crisis-trained.
Sharing Hope in Crisis
Monday, Kern and Mac David joined nearly 300 others at The Cove for their first day of worship, fellowship, and training.
“I know that you can have a heart to reach out to people, but you’ve got to know what to say,” said Kern. “I want to make sure it’s biblically based and Spirit led, and I think the chaplaincy training will help me do that instead of blurting out something silly.”
Over the past decade, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has deployed to floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, explosions, and shootings.
Hundreds of chaplains have helped care for the emotional and spiritual needs of people in the midst of tremendous loss and suffering.
Each Rapid Response chaplain must take a “Sharing Hope in Crisis” course as well as several “Critical Incident Stress Management” (CISM) courses. The CISM classes are recognized by FEMA and help chaplains learn crucial skills to prepare them for disaster deployment.
An International Ministry
During their week at The Cove, Kern and Mac David are joining others from around the world. The Rapid Response Team has active branches in Australia, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom. Each branch sent at least one representative to Asheville for the training.
“This week for me is like drinking water from a fire hydrant,” said Stewart Beveridge, who manages the Australian Rapid Response Team. “There’s just so much to take in. I value the relationships that get nurtured here this week, and the opportunity to walk alongside brothers and sisters in Christ who are motivated by loving and serving those in need. It’s inspiring.”
Kern is inspired, too.
“I’m just looking forward to being equipped, so I can minister to people effectively for the Lord,” Kern said. “I know I’m supposed to do it. This is going to help me be ready to do it.”
It took two years of prayer and a journey of more than 2,500 miles, but God was faithful. Now, He’s turning a note on a bulletin board into a much-anticipated pilgrimage–and a dream into reality.