SPIRITUAL RESPONSE TO DISASTER
By LORETTA FULTON
Say the words “first responder” and an image of a firefighter, law enforcement officer, or paramedic most likely will come to mind.
But what about the spiritual needs of the people affected by the trauma and their loved ones? That’s where “first responder” takes on an additional meaning. And that’s where people like Dan Franklin and his Texas Crisis Resiliancy Team come into play. Franklin is director of the TCRT and also is an associate in the office of chaplaincy relations for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He led a Disaster Spiritual Care Training session June 5-7 at Hendrick Medical Center.
Franklin literally wrote the book on Diaster Spiritual Care. His training manual was used during the session at Hendrick and was packed with good advice, guidelines, and “do’s and don’ts.”
A major point of emphasis was working with people of diverse cultures and religions–something that just about everyone responding to disasters is bound to encounter. A major “no-no” is “preaching” or trying to convert someone to Christianity during a crisis situation.
“We don’t go out there trying to make them like us,” Franklin said.
Also, Franklin advised, don’t pity, judge, try to be humorous, or interrupt a person talking. Always communicate respect and if you inadvertently offend someone, apologize immediately.
Spiritual care providers often are ordained ministers, but that isn’t required. In breakout sessions, students formed small groups for discussion. A recurring phrase was “intentional engagement.” Trey Hudgens is director for global engagement at Hardin-Simmons University. He works with students, and their families, from countries all over the world and from diverse backgrounds.
Hudgens lived in Shreveport when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Thousands of victims fled to Shreveport and Hudgens learned something about spiritual caregiving from that experience, which has proved useful to him in working with students from diverse backgrounds. At Shreveport, he observed the interaction of Red Cross workers with the hurricane victims.
“When was the last time you had a meal?” they would ask, realizing that meeting immediate needs and engaging a person to take his mind of his plight was extremely important.
Bermsoo Kim is a chaplain at Dyess Air Force Base. When a civilian contractor committed suicide in December 2017, the base commander gathered everyone together for the purpose of intentional engagement.
“Some people kind of shut down, especially people who are impacted,” Kim said. “I think that actually helped me.”
Another discussion group member was Bob Pipes, part-time chaplain for the Abilene Police Department. When police responded to a call that a man had found his wife dead in their home, Pipes observed how the responding officer handled the situation. The man was from India and Pipes asked him about life in India, intentionally engaging him in a conversation that provided distraction.
“It got his mind off what had happened,” Pipes said.
Franklin, who led the training, spent 30 years as an Army chaplain, with his last assignment at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The Texas Crisis Resiliency Team he leads is a member of the Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (Texas VOAD).
The TCRT and leadership leans toward Baptist but is open to anyone. The board of directors currently has members of other denominations and Franklin wants that trend to continue.
“We’re trying to be as diverse as we can,” he said.