In April 1987, I started full-time ministry with The Salvation Army's community and family services in Edmonton. Four months later, a devastating tornado ripped through the east corner of the city, destroying more than 300 homes, killing 27 people and injuring 253 others. It became known as Black Friday.
Out of that disaster came many meetings with local non-governmental organizations. As a Salvation Army representative, I was keenly aware of the need for a spiritual response in these crisis situations that could be met through the role of chaplaincy.
My first introduction to this role was filling in for the city of Edmonton chaplain, which led me to volunteer as fire chaplain for the city of St. Albert, Alta. Shortly after that I was privileged to become the first chaplain for the Edmonton international airport.
As an emergency chaplain, I have provided spiritual support not only at natural disasters all over Canada, such as floods in Slave Lake and Peace River, Alta., and Winnipeg, but also all over the world. New York, the southern United States, Chechnya, Kosovo and Malawi have all become my ministry field.
A chaplain's role is a ministry of presence. To explain this, I often give the example of a man chasing a butterfly that constantly eludes him. Finally, exhausted, he sits down. In the quietness of the moment, the butterfly lands on his shoulder. As a chaplain you don't need to chase anyone. Simply by your presence and availability at the right moment, they will come to you.
In October 2007, God moved me once again, this time to Abbotsford, B.C., where I became The Salvation Army's community ministry director and chaplain for fire and rescue services in Abbotsford and Mission, B.C. Always looking for ways to connect with the men and women at the fire halls, I decided to hand out copies of the Army's Christmas CD, along with a label including my name, contact information and my hope for them to enjoy a wonderful Christmas.
Shortly after distributing these CDs one Christmas, Jason (not his real name) called and asked if we could talk. I arranged to meet him at a local coffee shop. He told me he was depressed and couldn't keep feeling the way he was. He needed help. Then he received the CD. He hadn't shared his feelings with anyone, but when he saw the word “chaplain,” he decided to reach out.
As we talked, I assured him of confidentiality and convinced him to see his family doctor. I told him I would reconnect with him in 24 hours to see if he had followed through with the doctor.
I'm happy to report that, with the help of his family physician, Jason was redirected to a specialist for help. A few years have passed and Jason has moved on. He is no longer a firefighter; however, we continue to keep in touch. I met with him recently, and he is doing very well. When I asked if I could share his story, he said, “Good. People need to know it's OK to tell someone— not to bottle their feelings. No more silence about mental health! The more you talk about mental health, the easier it becomes for individuals to reach out for help when they need it.”
I'm not sure if Jason ever listened to the music on the CD, but I do know that God used it to save his life.
The Salvation Army's 2016 territorial Christmas CD, The Light of Christmas, is available at store. salvationarmy.ca.