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Chaplains counseled, thanked as they reconvene in New York

NEW YORK (BP)–For most of them, their first trip to this metropolis was in response to the worst terrorist attack ever inflicted upon the United States. At the time, they ministered to those victimized by the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers and surrounding buildings and to rescue and recovery workers who responded to the tragedy.

Two years later, more than two dozen Southern Baptist chaplains from 14 states who ministered — some on multiple occasions — in New York and Washington, D.C., had a reunion of sorts at the Salisbury Hotel on 57th Street, just south of Central Park in midtown Manhattan. This time, however, they were the ones ministered to.

The 30 men, several of whom were accompanied by their wives, attended a compassion fatigue workshop led by two LifeWay Christian Resources staffers, senior pastoral ministries specialist Brooks Faulkner and licensed counselor Barney Self in pastoral ministries. The daylong seminar Sept. 10 was funded largely by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma through disaster relief donations designated for the response to the tragedy two years ago.

The trip was organized by Joe Williams, former BGCO chaplaincy and community ministries specialist, who also responded to the tragedy and eventually served more than 16 months in New York after the attack, helping to distribute disaster relief money to survivors and victims and personally ministering to police officers, firefighters and other emergency response personnel. Williams, also a chaplain for the FBI, led chaplaincy efforts in April 1995 after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The need for the workshop had been in Williams’ heart since March 2002 and was solidified after he attended the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in St. Louis in June 2002, where he spoke at a chaplains’ meeting.

“I realized while I was in St. Louis that there were chaplains who worked in New York after 9/11 that had never been around that kind of traumatic experience before, even some hospital and law enforcement chaplains who had dealt with a lot of pain,” Williams said.

After the workshop concluded, many chaplains expressed their gratitude to Williams for putting the trip together. “Most of them had not been back to New York since the incident,” he said. “The feedback I received was excellent, and they thought it was beneficial. Some of them are still carrying a lot of stuff inside.”

He added that the spouses were “very complimentary; it gave them a handle on what their husbands had gone through and are still going through.”

Faulkner, addressing the topic of compassion fatigue during the workshop, said, “Something goes out from us when we do compassion.

“When you give comfort, it takes something from you. You do it willingly and gladly, you do it because you have been called and you do it even because it’s part of your character, but it still takes something out of you.”

He cautioned the chaplains, “The times you are most vulnerable are when you have given the most, and feeling deeply can be distortive.

“When the passion is depleted, the emptiness is dismantling. It takes a lot of energy to propagate a visible cause. It’s exhausting.”

Compassion fatigue can have many adverse effects, Faulkner noted.

“Nothing is more dangerous than a caregiver who has been a blessing in a long-serving cause,” he said. “They may develop a sense of entitlement, which makes them feel they are entitled to excesses.”

Faulkner counseled the chaplains not to try to live up to unrealistic expectations.

“You live up to the expectations that God has of you, not what other people expect of you,” he urged. “Quit living with a curse of expectations that you think people have of you, or that you expect of yourself.”

Among practical steps to combat compassion fatigue listed by Faulkner:

1. Don’t trouble yourself. Don’t look for issues to fight for. Avoid carrying the mantle of revenge; you can’t make things right, only God can do that.

2. Acknowledge your humanity. We’re all sinners.

3. Eat when you’re hungry, rest when you’re tired. In other words, take care of your body. Where else are you going to live?

4. Look for the props … things or people that can give you support.

5. Get rid of the sanctimony. “People aren’t looking for answers, are they? They’re looking for encouragement while they find their own answers,” Faulkner said. “Living the Scriptures is much more powerful that reading the Scriptures. Living the Bible is much more important than proving that it is irrefutably right.

“Learn to love and enjoy people who are different from you. Learn the fine art of comforting people in distress. Use grace more than guilt, and give the impression that all sinners can be forgiven. They don’t have to believe it, just give them the impression. God believes it.”

Self said compassion fatigue “goes beyond burnout — it goes to your very soul. It affects everything you do, every relationship you have, and you distance yourself from the potential pain and suffering. Unfortunately, at the same time, you may also distance yourself from those who can help you.”

Self led the group through a meditation time using guided imagery. With eyes closed and bodies relaxed in their chairs, the chaplains and their spouses were led through an imaginary trip to the seashore while the sound of waves breaking on the shore played in the background.

“By doing something like this for 20 minutes twice a day, you can get the same beneficial rest as you do during eight hours of sleep,” Self said.

At a banquet that evening, North American Mission Board President Robert E. Reccord told the chaplains, “When I think of heroes, I think of the people I’m looking at. I think of the people whose names may never be known as a household word, but whose names are on the heart of God, because you gave and gave and gave when it wasn’t easy to give, and I want to thank you so very much for that.

“You men and women are the ones who have a very special place in my heart and in the heart of NAMB because of what you did in the city of New York. So, on behalf of Southern Baptists everywhere, I want to be one voice saying to you tonight — and I hope you hear me — thank you for not staying in a comfort zone, and thank you for, when the bottom fell out, you stood up. And for all of you spouses who gave away your spouse to be here, thank you.”

Greetings from New York also were brought by former New York-New Jersey Port Authority Police Lt. Mark Winslow, who marked his 48th birthday on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Sept. 11 started out as a beautiful day; then we all witnessed the unthinkable,” Winslow said. “… [W]e were shocked, horrified and stunned.

“Some people talk about the cruel, despicable acts of cowardice displayed by the terrorists. I prefer to think about the acts of bravery and heroism I witnessed on 9/11. I saw people spring into action. I saw people volunteer at the World Trade Center and travel cross country to get there.

“I saw people donate needed goods, services and counseling. Thank you, North American Mission Board. I saw people put their own lives in harm’s way for others by running into a building that was on fire, or by making the supreme sacrifice for their fellow human beings. I saw heroes that day.

“Though the loss of life was great, 25,000 lives were saved,” Winslow said. “The examples of 9/11 brought to light these acts of bravery and heroism. I am deeply touched by how our great country responded to the needs of New York. Your compassion, generosity and your sense of humanity will always be admired.”
Bob Nigh is managing editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger newsjournal. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: REFLECTING ANEW and GRATEFUL OFFICER.

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  • Bob Nigh