Chaplaincy: A Ministry within California Disaster Relief

Naomi Paget Teaching a DR course

Chaplaincy: A Ministry within California Disaster Relief

Chaplaincy: A Ministry within California Disaster Relief

The work of the chaplain in disaster relief is a natural extension of our Great Commandment to love God and love others (Matt. 37-39). Chaplain ministry has roots in ancient history as religious persons accompanied armies into battle as priests. Chaplains sailed with Sir Francis Drake as he circumnavigated the world and accompanied George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Today, chaplains also serve people who have been impacted by disasters.

While talking to a little girl who had survived a flood and total destruction of her home, the chaplain asked if she would like to hear a story. “Of course.” The little girl nodded her head, and the chaplain began to tell the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with two loaves of bread and five fish. As she listened, the little girl looked around the shelter, and with the clarity of vision only a child could have, she announced, “I saw Jesus today!”  “Tell me about that,” the chaplain exclaimed. The little girl pointed at the California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief feeding team, who were serving dinner to shelter residents from a mass kitchen on site.

As a chaplain I have also accompanied disaster relief teams into the destruction and remains of every type of disaster. Other chaplains come from various settings in life and represent multiple cultures, ages, vocations, and experiences. With appropriate training and supervision, disaster relief chaplains provide gospel ministry through specialized emotional and spiritual care to those who have been impacted by disasters. Some recipients are in shock, and some are grieving. Some are angry, and some are relieved to have survived. There are no “right or wrong” emotions following disasters. There are reactions of almost every kind. Chaplains are prepared to meet the challenges of anger and grief, the hopelessness of seeing no recovery, or the loneliness of feeling abandoned and forgotten. Remembering that Jesus was compassionate and provided care to those he knew and those who represented the fringes of society, chaplains serve with the attitude of “every one person counts, and we serve all who would receive our care.”

Disaster spiritual care – chaplaincy – in Southern Baptist life is an extension of the local church via the organization and oversight of California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Ministries. Led by a State Director (in California, that’s Kendrick Neal), volunteers are recruited from various churches throughout California. As volunteers, we participate in several training courses that help prepare and equip us for compassion ministry through the vehicle of disaster relief chaplaincy. The training topics and content are inspired by previous chaplain experiences, have been trauma-informed, evidence-based, and strongly recommended by the North American Mission Board and Send Relief of the Southern Baptist Convention.

While presenting some training about stress and how it impacts our bodies, emotions, and spiritual life, several participants recounted their own reactions during various disasters and crises in their personal lives. Relating these to the reactions that people impacted by disasters have, one student announced, “I think I’ll be using these skills in my personal life and in my church more than disaster relief!” Other students agreed and began to strategize how various topics could be used in church ministry and with friends and colleagues in work settings.

My grandson asked one day if I had ever done anything great. I couldn’t think of one thing that could be called “great.” I did tell him, however, that I intended to do as many small things as possible because they might matter just as much. California Disaster Relief provides me the opportunity to be a chaplain who keeps showing up to do many small things for people who need a listening ear. Every interruption in my very scheduled life is another opportunity to do one small thing, be one kind person, listen one more time, and love God by loving other people.

Amazingly, people ask me, “Why did you come? Why are you helping me – a stranger?” And God’s intention becomes clear – every ministry contact I make is an opportunity to be the gospel and answer those very important questions at a time when people need hope the most!

About the Author

Dr. Naomi Paget
Director, California Disaster Relief Chaplain Program

Dr. Naomi Paget BCC, FBI Chaplain and Crisis Interventionist, is a certified member of the American Red Cross Spiritual Response Team -Task Force and Divisional Advisor, Denver Seminary Critical Incident Stress Management Team, and Director of the California Disaster Relief Chaplain program. She is a certified crisis chaplain, instructor and curriculum writer, awarded Fellowship in American Association of Experts in Traumatic Stress /National Academy of Crisis Management, and is serving as the Chairman of the National-Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (National VOAD) Emotional/Spiritual Care Committee.

More About Dr. Naomi Paget
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