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Chaplain shares hurricane victims’ stories of hope & heartache

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Representing Christ to people in times of crisis is the task set before Naomi Paget, a disaster relief chaplain for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. Paget has worked tirelessly on the front lines of the relief effort since last September to share the love of Christ with those impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast.

“The stories of escape and survival are amazing. I hear horrific stories of the Superdome experience, the overpass experience, the relocation experience. I hear fatigue, frustration and fear,” said Paget, a doctor of ministry graduate of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Much of Paget’s work is to assess the needs of all disaster relief sites and determine where chaplains are most needed and how to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the victims. During her assignment, Paget has visited shelters along the coastal area of Texas to New Orleans and inland to San Antonio.

During her service, Paget has seen the extremes of human emotion. “The contrasts are so great. There are those who appreciate everything and those who expect more. There are those who view this event as judgment from God and those who blame the government for not taking better care of them pre-Katrina. It is a contrast of attitudes.”

Her position as a disaster relief chaplain with NAMB is a temporary assignment. Under normal circumstances, Paget can be found working as a clinical chaplain for the FBI in the San Francisco Bay Area. The FBI has given her extended leave from her duties to allow her to serve the hurricane victims.

Paget has lost count of the survival stories she has heard, but one survival story stands out in her mind. It is the story of a man who, as she describes his experience, “awoke to water throughout the first floor of his house. Even as he hurried to gather his valuables and move them to the second floor, the water flooded the stairs and forced him out the window.

“He spent the night clinging to a tree in complete fear of falling asleep and drowning as the floodwaters swept past him. Three days later, he was found still clutching the tree, desperately trying to stay awake.”

After Paget spent time with the man, she asked him what he was feeling. “I feel like I need that ol’ tree. What else can I hang on to, Chaplain?”

Knowing the only thing that would bring him peace was Christ, Paget said, “Sir, you are to cling to the Lord your God and no one will be able to snatch you out of His hands. Jesus will give you the strongest tree of all — the Tree of Life.”

Whether Paget has the opportunity to share Christ directly or indirectly, she is always available to listen, spend time with people and care for their needs.

Paget recounted a time she received encouragement from a young girl who was staying in a Hurricane Katrina evacuee center at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.

“During a restless evening, a little girl of five tugged at me and asked if I was ‘the holy lady.’ A Red Cross volunteer had sent her my way to entertain while her mother finished her meal which was prepared by the Texas Baptist Men and the California disaster relief teams.

“I explained that I was not really a holy lady but I knew stories about a holy Man and she immediately wanted to hear one. Seeing the volunteers feeding the 5,000 or so residents, I began to relate the story of a man named Jesus who loved people so much he fed a group of hungry people almost like this one [Mark 6:35-44]. I explained that Jesus loved her, too. She smiled and said, ‘I saw Jesus today.’

“Surprised at such a revelation, I asked, ‘You saw Jesus today? Tell me about that.’ She pointed at the volunteer who had served her supper.”

Looking back on the encounter, Paget believes the story sums up her passion and desire as a disaster relief chaplain, which is to be the face of Christ during a disaster. “It is exactly the reason we do the work we do.”
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention, operates five fully accredited campuses in Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado.

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  • Jeff Jones