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Counselor for Ground Zero workers led to Christ by Christian chaplains

NEW YORK (BP)–When New Jersey police officer Bob Rice was sent to New York last Sept. 14 to help fellow public safety workers cope with the overwhelming horrors of Ground Zero, he never realized the impact the ministry of other counselors at the site would have on his own life.

Through conversations developed with three Christian chaplains, he ultimately made a life-changing profession of faith in Christ. A member of the New Jersey Critical Incident Stress Management Team, Rice is now known as the “Ranting Reverend” or “Reverend Bob” by his colleagues.

Rice was among several speakers who recounted how God worked through the World Trade Center attack at a Sept. 10 “Service of Remembrance” sponsored by the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. The service, which drew about 150 people, was held at First Baptist Church of New York.

Rice said the first thing he was required to do on arriving at Ground Zero was to tour the site. “You can’t talk about any of this,” the supervisor said, “if you don’t know what’s going on out there.”

Although he lived only 96 miles from New York City in New Jersey, Rice had never been to the city — and his first impression was a lasting one.

“What greeted me was something I hope I never have to see again,” he said. He and his colleagues wandered around the site for hours.

Not only was the carnage overwhelming, but Rice also was out of his element. He was now working with men called by God to serve as chaplains. “I had the privilege — privilege now, then I wasn’t so crazy about it — of working with the chaplains,” he said.

Rice was raised in a Catholic environment until he was 6 years old. Through the years friends had tried to introduce him to their various religious beliefs. “I didn’t have good experiences in any of those situations,” he said, noting that his language when he first arrived at Ground Zero reflected his spiritual condition.

“Before I got here, you would’ve never wanted to have a conversation with me,” he said. “The words that came out of my mouth would scare a truck driver.”

Then he met chaplains Greg Smith and Gary Malkus of San Bernadino, Calif., and Ricky Hargrave, of McKinney, Texas, each invited to serve in New York through the International Conference of Police Chaplains. Hargrave and Smith are both Southern Baptists, while Malkus is a Calvary Chapel pastor.

Malkus and Rice would frequently walk the site and talk. “He [Gary] was listening to everything I said and every [foul] word that came out of my mouth. Gary told me I needed some ‘substitution’ words for my language,” Rice said. Little by little his foul language began to clean up — as did his heart.

One of the first areas where Rice saw a need for change in his life was in the way he viewed women. Malkus noticed Rice’s head turn toward many of the attractive women who visited the site, despite having seen a photo of Rice’s wife on the visor of his car. He shared a simple illustration that helped Rice reflect on the gift of his wife.

“What don’t you like?” Malkus asked. Rice responded, “Chicken McNuggets.”

Malkus told him that every time he looked at these women he should think of Chicken McNuggets. “These are Chicken McNuggets, and at home you have prime rib,” Malkus said. From that moment, Rice’s glancing looks began to change.

One day Rice was on break and looking for something to read. Another chaplain, Ron Neish, gave him the New Testament Book of John. Later, Neish asked him what he thought of his reading. Rice replied, “I don’t understand it.”

Neish told him that he needed the Lord to give him wisdom and power to understand it. Rice’s response was, “How do I do that?” Neish replied, “Just talk to him, like you would a friend.”

Later, Rice talked with Malkus about the encounter. While he jokingly advised Rice not to talk to God like he talked to his friends based on his earlier foul language, it did lead to a discussion about what it meant to “talk to God.”

His friendships deepened with the chaplains he now called his “three wise men.” When they finally began to leave, he recalled the tearful goodbyes that they shared. “I was crying, Gary was crying … I had my wife on the phone — she was crying,” Rice said.

As Malkus was saying his last goodbyes, he asked Rice to tell fellow chaplain Hargrave “to finish what I started.” Rice wasn’t sure what the message meant, but he passed it on anyway.

Rice’s heart began being drawn more and more toward God and spiritual things. “Something was happening to me and I didn’t know what it was,” he said.

One day — in the midst of twisted metal and smoldering debris of the terrorists’ carnage — Rice sought out Hargrave and shared what was on his heart.

“Ricky, I need to have the Lord Jesus in my life,” Rice admitted. He then prayed to accept Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Coincidently — or by God’s providence — Smith was able to hear the entire conversation and prayer after being accidentally auto-dialed on Hargrave’s cell phone.

Since that day, Rice has not looked back. He lives out his belief in God every day. At home, his family is forever changed. His son, Bobby, who is 16, was involved in alcohol and drugs and at the point of moving out of the house. God has transformed his life just like he did his father’s. He hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol, having accepted Christ himself April 30.

The climax of God’s work with his family was when Rice, his wife, Kimberly, and Bobby were baptized together. Their entire family is now enmeshed in the life of their local congregation, Calvary Chapel Church in Bellmawr, N.J. “We are there whenever the doors are open,” Rice said.

Many people wonder where God was on Sep. 11, 2001. Bob Rice knows. He was preparing a place for him.
Griner is communications director for New Hope New York, the North American Mission Board’s Strategic Focus Cities outreach effort in New York. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FAITH AT GROUND ZERO.

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  • Bob Griner