In the aftermath of the most massive Atlantic hurricane in history, Assemblies of God endorsed chaplains are ministering in a variety of ways to both storm victims and relief workers.
Among the response from our AG chaplains, a trio is supervising other trained volunteer chaplains in the hardest-hit states of New York and New Jersey.
The disaster, dubbed "Superstorm Sandy," struck the Northeast coast October 29. It forced multitudes to evacuate, led to power outages for 8.5 million people and irreparably damaged infrastructure in the region. A November 8 blizzard brought a foot of snow to many of the same areas, shutting down Internet and cell phone service.
"There's never been anything like this," says AG Chaplain Daniel R. Schafer, who established an incident command post at Calvary Lighthouse in Lakewood, New Jersey, pastored by Wes Lindquist "We're overwhelmed with the devastating loss of property and possessions. It's going to be months - maybe years - before we're back to some kind of normalcy."
Schafer, who served as coordinator of chaplains for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, now is overseeing trained chaplains who provide one-on-one debriefing for emergency personnel. These workers return to their homes each night long enough to sleep and grab a meal.
Schafer is director of the nonprofit ALPHA Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), Team, which has 80 members. The team includes police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, nurses, clinical psychologists, counselors and social workers who have been trained for crisis response.
The ALPHA team members meet Office of Emergency Management (OEM) as well as Department of Mental Health CISM guidelines for intense training. Along with certified chaplains, ALPHA team members have been dispatched to various locations to meet with officers who experience stress because of the disaster. Much of the CISM work is geared to help emergency services personnel cope with the unprecedented crisis situation.
At the command center, Schafer's team has been working with teams from Convoy of Hope, which has stationed half a dozen tractor-trailers at Calvary Lighthouse.
"People don't want to leave their homes because of looting," says Schafer, who also is pastor of Calvary Assembly of God in Hightstown, New Jersey. "Chaplains and Convoy of Hope have had gas siphoned out of their tanks. It's very desperate." The first two days after the tragedy, Schafer tried to maintain peace between short-tempered customers in line to buy gas for their vehicles and generators.
ALPHA team members are escorting residents, some still wearing the shorts and flip-flops they fled with, back to their cold residences. The presence of a trained chaplain, wearing a police shirt with a cross on it, can be a comforting presence, even for those who have lost virtually everything, Schafer says. A CISM volunteer allows survivors to freely talk about their feelings.
"Under these conditions it's just best for us to be there and listen," Schafer says. "Merely being a sounding board can help mitigate the circumstances."
Schafer says Calvary Lighthouse, which is located on 22 acres, already is preparing for Mission American
Placement Service teams to arrive to help with rebuilding efforts. However, before buildings can be torn apart, a Federal Emergency Management Agency assessment must occur.
Meanwhile, AG Chaplain Jamie M. Grubb has been in full-time emergency mode since Superstorm Sandy struck. The Salvation Army, the largest disaster relief organization in the world, asked her to be an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) liaison in Albany, New York. Grubb simultaneously is partnering with the American Red Cross and Department of Mental Health.
Grubb founded the Argyle, New York-based ministry Hesed Hope in 2009, as a way to provide emotional and spiritual care to those hurting from traumatic stress and grief. Since Superstorm Sandy hit, Grubb has spent most days in the EOC underground communications bunker. Much like a conventional hospital chaplain, she makes the rounds talking to 400 people who work 12- to 14-hour days. Using chocolate candy as an icebreaker, Grubb engages the workers in conversation, looking for signs of tension. She makes sure, for instance, that they are getting enough sleep at night.
Grubb tries to draw out the workers, encouraging them to talk about their children back home. That often brings a bit of joy in an otherwise grim shift.
"It's an intensively stressful environment," Grubb says. "I have a new respect for emergency management operations in disasters. Without those in the bunker, no one on the ground would get help."
On November 18, Grubb transitioned to recovery mode, partnering with emotional and spiritual care teams coordinating debris removal. Chaplains walk the streets and meet victims to provide comfort and education.
Another ministry on the ground is Christ in Action (CIA), directed by AG chaplain Denny Nissley, who established a base camp in Ocean County, New Jersey. Nissley also ministered at ground zero and at the Pentagon following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Now, via a trailer, CIA is providing hot showers for up to 800 people per day; rallying volunteers to help remove waterlogged furniture and ruined appliances, carpeting, flooring and dry wall from houses; deploying crews to clean up yards and remove trees; and mobilizing chaplains to minister. CIA has more than 200 volunteers engaged from 11 different states in the relief efforts.
"We've been able to pray with each family as we finish our work in their home, and spend hours ministering to residents, one on one, as the crews work to gut their homes," says Bethany Nissley, CIA deputy director.
For information about AG Chaplaincy, click here. To give online to Sandy Disaster Relief, click this link. Checks may also be sent to the General Council of the Assemblies of God, 1445 N. Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65802 and write "Sandy Disaster Relief" in the memo line.