Providing Refuge in Times of Trouble

By   •   April 7, 2009

April 13 Update— In response to the shooting deaths of 14 people at the American Civic Association (ACA) on April 3, the RRT deployed experienced chaplains from North Carolina that same day.

The deployment ended on April 13: Ten chaplains prayed with 142 people; nine people accepted Christ as Savior.

April 9 Update–As RRT chaplains continue to bring comfort in Binghamton, N.Y., they are sending in updates of changed lives and decisions for Christ from the field.

Patty* has been an English teacher for foreign students at the American Civic Association (ACA) in Binghamton, N.Y., for nearly 12 years. She was teaching the day of the tragic shooting, and ended up as a hostage in the buildings basement for three hours.

Though her co-workers usually describe Patty as “a rock”, the days following the incident have been very difficult for her. After four days of a roller coaster of emotions and sleepless nights, Patty knew that she needed counseling.

Being a strong Christian, she specifically did not want to meet with secular counselors, and she asked two BGEA RRT Chaplains whom she had met, if they would meet with her. During their time together, Patty told the Chaplains that she had 26 students in her basement classroom at the ACA on Friday April 3rd when she heard gunshots on the first floor above them.

With the chalk still in her hand, she quickly and quietly got all of her students and herself into the nearby boiler room of the basement and closed the door. Patty and the others stood in anxious quiet as a blasting series of gunshots were fired upstairs, and then all was quiet.

Later, Patty told the Chaplains that after the initial 30 seconds, she really felt peaceful there in the boiler room. Three hours later, they heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and two police officers opened the boiler room door and escorted them all safely outside.

She appreciated the chaplains’ time of listening, of counsel and of prayer for her. Though she may need more times of counseling from a Christian perspective in the weeks to come, Patty felt relieved and comforted by spending time with the chaplains.

A New Life Begins at Site of Terrible Tragedy

Many heartbroken people have been drawn to the location where the shootings took place. When two RRT chaplains were ministering in the area of the ACA two days after the tragedy, they met Alejandro, an immigrant from Cuba who is living in Binghamton with his college-aged daughter.

Alejandro had come to the scene to find out if a friend of his was one of the victims of the shooting. He told the Chaplains that for months, Maria, one of the staff at ACA, had helped him with paperwork for his fiancé to be able to come to America. Alejandro told the Chaplains how helpful and nice Maria had been, and that he was very worried that she might now be dead. He said that his fiancé was now cleared to come to the United States within a month and he wanted Maria to meet her.

Unfortunately the list of the names of the victims had not yet been released, so there was no way at that time to find out if Maria was among the dead, but the Chaplains offered to pray with Alejandro, and he eagerly accepted.

Before prayer, the Chaplains learned that Alejandro had never committed his life to Christ. The Chaplains were able to share with him about the joy of knowing Christ as Savior and Lord. They also shared the pamphlet, “Steps to Peace with God” in Spanish. Then the Chaplains had the privilege of experiencing an up close look at the awesome power of God.

Within sight of the terrible tragedy where so many lives were lost, a new life was born, as Alejandro prayed to commit his life to Christ. As the Chaplains rejoiced with him, they told him about a community memorial service scheduled for that evening. They invited Alejandro to come and to bring his daughter so they could meet her. He did, while still carrying the Bible that the Chaplains had given him earlier in the day after he had accepted Christ.

When the Chaplains met his daughter, she told them that she was a Christian and that she had attended the Franklin Graham Festival in Binghamton 2 years ago! She was so excited that her father had made his commitment to Christ! The Chaplains prayed with both Alejandro and his daughter, giving thanks to God for the gift of eternal life that they would now experience together, for all eternity!

Chaplains Minister to Traumatized Students

Five students majoring in Teaching English as a Second Language at Davis College in Binghamton, N.Y., have spent Wednesdays at the American Civic Association (ACA) for the past few months, assisting foreign students who are learning English. Although they were not present during the tragedy, the Davis College students have been traumatized by the event, and were very concerned for people they had come to know and befriend, many of which were killed in the tragedy.

Davis College is familiar with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association because they housed Samaritan’s Purse and BGEA RRT Chaplains in August, 2006 when a flood devastated Binghamton.

Some of the Davis staff also assisted with the Franklin Graham Festival in 2007. Davis College was aware that BGEA Chaplains had returned to Binghamton in response to the shooting, and they called the Chaplains to ask if they would come and minister to the five students.

Two Chaplains had the opportunity to meet privately with one of the students who was having a particularly difficult time coping with the reality of the shooting. The student was comforted by the Chaplains’ listening ear, Godly counsel and prayers on her behalf.

The following day, Davis College President, Dr. Pedrone, invited the BGEA Chaplains to take part in a special Chapel service to minister to the college body as a whole. NBC Nightly News, and local TV and print media covered the event which was open to the public. The Chaplains shared in the service scriptures of the comfort and hope of Christ.

A middle aged woman, not affiliated with the college, had come to the service because she was a friend of the ACA receptionist who was shot in the stomach during the tragedy, but survived. After hearing the gospel message during the service, and while being ministered to by an RRT Chaplain, the woman prayed to invite Christ into her heart as her Lord and Savior.

“Words cannot express the profound sadness that this tragedy has caused,” said Jack Munday, director of the RRT, when the team deployed. “A senseless act of extreme violence has left an entire city in despair. We will listen to and cry with those people whose lives were changed forever.”

Franklin Graham, president of the BGEA, spent several days preaching the Gospel in Binghamton in 2007. He met many families and students, city officials and church leaders. “My hope, in the aftermath of this tragedy, is that the people of Binghamton will turn their hearts to the God of all comfort who is near to all who call on His name,” Graham said in a statement Saturday.

The Rapid Response Team is a nationwide network of more than 3,000 chaplains who are specially trained to appropriately offer emotional and spiritual care during crisis situations.

This is the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team’s second deployment to Binghamton. The first deployment took place following devastating flooding in 2006. BGEA also held a Franklin Graham Festival in Binghamton in 2007.