By Joy Allmond
As America remembers the tragic events of September 11, 2001 (9/11), we reflect on the lives lost and the families affected by those losses. And attention turns toward the first responders—the firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics—who worked hard to save lives that day.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT)—which offers emotional and spiritual care to people affected by disasters—was born out of 9/11 when volunteers deployed to New York City to minister to those impacted by the terrorist attacks.
Due to the nature of the RRT’s work, crisis-trained chaplains find themselves ministering to first responders during deployments in the aftermath of such disasters.
Josh Holland, assistant director of the RRT, offers ways for the local church to show appreciation and minister to the first responders in their communities.
1. Introduce yourself
“Something as simple as going down to the station and just introducing yourself as a representative of a church in the neighborhood can be very effective,” says Holland.
“Just show up at the police or fire station and explaining your church is right around the corner, should they need anything—whether it’s someone to talk to, or even if they need to use any of the buildings for a meeting—you want to be a blessing.”
Holland also suggests dropping off the occasional food or baked goods—especially for those working the late shifts—can go a long way.
“It could be somebody from the church who wants to bring cookies or cake every Friday,” he says.
2. Recognize them—corporately and individually
Another way, Holland says, churches can minister to local first responders, is to obtain the birthdays of the people at local departments—and send them a birthday card every year.
He also says inviting them to a special church service where they are recognized and fed a meal afterwards can make an impact.
“It’s all about relationships,” says Holland. “And churches can build these relationships when they do things to let them know they appreciate them and they’re behind them.”
3. Understand their personal, job-related struggles
The stress level for the first responders is extremely high, says Holland, and this has a ripple effect into their personal lives.
“The number of hours first responders often work and the odd shifts can be hard on family life,” he says.
“Their marriages are often strained because of this. Communities and churches need to understand that by serving us, it often comes with a steep price tag in regard to their personal and family lives.”
Holland says as with military personnel, it’s common for first responders to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“The nature of the job and expectations on them can bring a lot of stress,” he says. “And one reason it’s important for the local church to build relationships with people who serve and protect is because they often need for someone to listen to their struggles, even if they don’t know it.”
Holland says it’s tough for many first responders to open up to someone willing to listen.
“But once the rapport is built, you’ll likely hear them open up and talk about things they’ve seen, and even smells that haunt them. They internalize those things and carry them around.
“But that shouldn’t be a deterrent. Actually, the church should run toward them, because I’ve found first responders seem to be open to spiritual discussions. All we need to do is start listening to them.”
JOY ALLMOND (@JoyAllmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.