When Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain Kevin Williams boarded his St. Louis-bound flight Saturday, he settled into seat 22D, in the second-to-last row.
The flight looked full, and Kevin read and highlighted his well-worn book of Psalms and Proverbs as he waited to see who would fill the seat next to him.
No one ever came. However, Kevin soon realized the occupant of the seat just behind his had been watching him—and checking out the blue Rapid Response Team jacket he had placed on the empty seat.
“Excuse me, sir,” the man asked Kevin. “Are you with the Billy Graham ministry?”
Kevin said that he was, and he was headed to Ferguson, Missouri.
So was that man a row behind him, who turned out to be Rev. Carlton Lee.
Rev. Lee’s church had burned down amidst the chaos of last week, when a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, who was 18. Lee is the Brown family’s pastor.
“Before we go any further,” Kevin told Lee, “I was wondering why this seat did not get filled. You need to move up here.”
The two talked for the length of the 1 hour and 50 minute flight from Charlotte to St. Louis.
“He just poured out his heart,” Kevin said. “God had arranged for this to occur, and the Lord allowed me to minister to him.”
Kevin encouraged the pastor to rest and make time for God, in the midst of so much turmoil.
“My main point to him was to remind him that he had been called to be a minister of the Gospel.” Kevin said. “I told him, ‘A whole lot of people are pulling you in different directions, but you’ve got to listen to God. People’s lives are depending on you to do what you’re called to do.”
As they left the plane, Kevin briefly met Michael Brown, Sr., who lost his son four months ago next week. Kevin said he hoped to talk with him more in the coming days.
The members of the Rapid Response Team saw that flight as a divine appointment for several reasons. It allowed a weary pastor to experience hope and encouragement. And it opened a door the chaplains had been praying about—a door to the Ferguson community.
When the Rapid Response Team headed into Ferguson, it did so at the invitation of members of the law enforcement community. Led by Jeff Naber, a 30-year police veteran and manager of chaplain development and ministry relations, four crisis-trained chaplains had agreed to travel to Ferguson to minister to police and other first responders.
Knowing law enforcement officers were facing death threats and promises of retaliation, the chaplains had an opportunity to help meet the emotional and spiritual needs of first responders and their families.
“But we didn’t want to seem partial in any way,” Kevin explained. “Our role is to respond to devastation—natural or manmade disasters—and to offer hope in times of crisis. And that’s not a subject that is available to partiality.”
The encounter with Rev. Lee allowed the chaplains to minister to the whole community, not just part of it.
“Because actually they’re all one community,” Kevin said.
Since they arrived in Ferguson, the team of four chaplains have prayed with more than 250 people from all walks of life. By Tuesday night, 10 Rapid Response Team chaplains will be in Ferguson to help meet any emotional and spiritual needs in the community.
“Our purpose here has two different angles,” Jeff Naber said. “One is to minister to the healing, the grieving of the community. The loss of life. The loss of businesses. The anxiety in the neighborhoods.
“And now on the other hand, we also see great ministry with law enforcement and first responders. And again you can see the anxiety.”
Through an invitation from the Fraternal Order of Police, the chaplains have had a presence at command posts for St. Louis and Ferguson law enforcement. And through an invitation from Rev. Lee, they were able to spend several hours with the people of The Flood Community Church, which met under a tent in a parking lot Sunday because of the fire.
Wherever they go, the chaplains are praying for the love of Christ to flow through them, as they offer hope and healing to the people of Ferguson.
“Proverbs 12:25 says anxiety in the heart of a man leads to depression,” Kevin said. “Then there’s a comma. It says, but a good word makes the heart happy.”
“There’s a lot of anxiety where depression has set in,” he continued. “The sense of hopelessness is there, and it’s very real. You can feel it. You can see it.
“They need a good word of hope … and that’s what we’ve been offering since we got on the ground.”
Find peace in the midst of crisis.
Read more about Rapid Response Team Chaplain Kevin Williams and his unique background.