Chaplaincy volunteers make a difference in disaster relief

by C. Walter Overman
  • Larry Jones, Left

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | 2 yrs old

Survivors of natural disasters encounter many challenges in the aftermath of a disaster. Some must replace a roof or refurbish a flooded home.

Others must confront the challenge of overcoming the tragic loss of a loved one.

Regardless of the scope of a disaster, in addition to help with physical needs, many survivors need emotional and spiritual support.

During his six years serving with North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM), Gary Carringer has witnessed firsthand the emotional trauma that victims of natural disasters endure.

“There have been times when I just talked to folks because they needed someone to talk to,” Carringer said. “Spending time with people sometimes is the most important thing.”

He said the volunteers who serve in disaster relief also need spiritual care. “I’ve seen volunteers who thought it would be a piece of cake, but the disaster really affected them,” he said.

Carringer is certified in the disciplines of feeding and recovery with NCBM, but recently felt called to also pursue certification as a disaster relief chaplaincy volunteer.

The primary role of disaster relief chaplaincy volunteers is to provide spiritual and emotional care to survivors and volunteers who serve in the aftermath of a disaster.

Carringer participated in basic training for disaster relief chaplaincy volunteers at the recent NCBM disaster relief regional training seminar at Ranger Baptist Church in Murphy. The two-day training focused on the basics of providing spiritual care in a crisis situation. 

Once volunteers complete basic training, they are eligible to serve anywhere NCBM responds to a disaster. Volunteers are required to recertify every three years and are eligible to receive advanced training.

New addition to disaster relief
The first NCBM chaplaincy volunteers began training in 2005 under the direction of Larry Jones, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina senior consultant for military and chaplaincy ministry. Since then, more than 300 chaplaincy volunteers have completed basic training, and 209 are active and ready to serve.

The chaplaincy ministry is available to all North Carolina Baptists, including men, women, clergy and laypersons.

“We are always eager to connect with those who sense a calling to this kind of ministry,” Jones said. “We have been very pleased through the years that so many people have sensed that call and responded by getting that training.”

He added that it is important to make the distinction between “chaplains” and “chaplaincy volunteers” because most volunteers are not clinically trained professionals.

Making a difference
Gaylon Moss, NCBM disaster relief volunteerism coordinator, said the level of training chaplaincy volunteers receive equips them to fill a vital role in disaster relief operations.

“The chaplaincy program has helped us highlight the spiritual and emotional components of disaster response so that survivors and volunteers have someone to talk to about spiritual things,” he said. “It’s meant a lot to Baptist Men.”

NCBM is tracking more professions of faith since the chaplaincy program began. Jones believes that is a direct result of the spiritual focus of chaplaincy volunteers, which allows volunteers with other disciplines of disaster relief to carry out their assignments.

“That’s not to say that other volunteers were not sharing their faith and bringing people to the Lord before we came onboard,” Jones said. “But it does say that there is a niche here for a group of people who have a specific focus of meeting spiritual needs.”

Jones listed several characteristics of a successful chaplaincy volunteer. At the top of the list is a sense of calling motivated out of a love for God and for others. 

“The days are long and the nights are short in a disaster relief situation,” Jones said. “Volunteers will only persevere with a love for God and for their fellow man.”

Volunteers are also encouraged to receive additional training, such as training through other organizations like the Red Cross, and to learn from veteran NCBM chaplains.

Volunteers should be Kingdom-focused, flexible, reliable, able to lead devotions, able to pray in public and willing to share their faith. The ability to share the gospel is a critical component of the chaplaincy ministry, and is a characteristic that separates NCBM from other relief agencies.

“That’s what makes us different. It’s not just about fixing a roof,” Jones said. “It’s about fixing a roof in order to show the love of God and to give us a chance to share why we want the love of God to be known by those we are helping.”

For more information about becoming a chaplaincy volunteer contact Larry Jones at ljones@ncbaptist.org.

NC Baptist Men disaster relief efforts are supported through the North Carolina Missions Offering. For more information visit www.ncmissionsoffering.org.