Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains who returned to Ferguson found themselves in the middle of the action as they sought to share the love of God with the community.
At the direction of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association President Franklin Graham and at the invitation of members of the Ferguson community, eight crisis-trained chaplains were sent back into the heart of Ferguson last week.
It was their second deployment to the city since November, when 81 chaplains spent six weeks ministering to all parts of the hurting St. Louis suburb in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting.
On March 12, two police officers were shot outside the Ferguson Police Department. The shooting happened one day after Ferguson’s police chief resigned, following a Justice Department report detailing racial discrimination among the city’s law enforcement and courts.
After the shooting, members of the community invited the Billy Graham chaplains back to the city, where they maintained a presence in the middle of the turmoil.
“We’re here to try to bring unity throughout the community, through emotional and spiritual care,” said Al New, manager of deployments and operations for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. “We’re neutral. We’re not here for one side or the other; we’re here for everybody.”
On Saturday, New and several other chaplains witnessed a protest that went from calm to tumultuous in a matter of seconds. Two groups of protesters—some supporting the mayor and police and others opposing them—were lined up on opposite sides of the street. Words were exchanged, and one side began to throw American flags on the ground and stomp on them.
“They met in the middle of the road,” New said. “They were pushing and shoving. Then the mob pushed some of them all the way back against the fire station and had them pinned where they couldn’t move.”
As some of the chaplains worked to separate the two sides, New noticed that one woman was backed up against a wall.
“She was bending backwards because she had nowhere to go,” New said. “I just went around the back, grabbed her by her wrist and pulled her out of there.”
When chaplains weren’t out with protesters or law enforcement officers, they could usually be found at the Rapid Response Team’s mobile command unit, a large, black truck with space for the team to talk and pray with residents and serve up hot coffee or cold water.
Over the weekend, three teenage boys who were headed into the middle of the turmoil stopped by the truck and started talking with Charlotte-based chaplain, Kevin Williams.
The visit ended with a meaningful time of prayer. In fact, the boys skipped their original plans to go into the chaos. Instead, they ran home to get their cousin, so she could meet the chaplains, too.
It was one of many moments that had all the signs of a divine appointment. As they continued to share the love and peace that comes from knowing God, the chaplains prayed for many more.