Relaxed and sitting in the living room waiting for Cuatro, our youngest daughter, to fall asleep because she had her own special “camp out” in the living room for doing a good job at cleaning her room a few days earlier, when suddenly the call came.
He quickly approached me where I was standing in our bathroom and said “One of our officers has been shot.” He was making a phone call to the head chaplain and notifying him that he would be on his way within the next 5-10 minutes.
I grabbed his uniform pants, his dress shoes, black belt, and he grabbed his navy long-sleeved shirt with the yellow letters “chaplain” written on the back. He began to get dressed and I grabbed his wallet, badge, and keys. He was ready within minutes. I handed him a quick snack and some water, he kissed me and he was out the door.
Only a week before this incident we had honored our local department in a special service. We shook their hands and gave personal words of thanks, gave them gifts, presented them with the gospel, and fed them a steak dinner in a tent in the church parking lot. We prayed for this man’s life to be spared.
The Difference between Officers’ Families and Chaplains’ Families
When an officer leaves for the day they leave their family members with a blank day ahead of them that will be filled with the call-outs and happenings as the day unfolds. Their family hugs them good-bye never knowing the outcome of how things will go. When my husband is called out on a chaplain call, we already know the outcome. Typically death has occurred and the majority of them last fall were suicides. We knew when he left that the people at the scene were either distraught or there were people yet to be notified of their loved one’s death and it would cause turmoil in not only their day, but their life.
This particular night the suspect that had shot the officer was not in custody. When I hugged my husband good-bye I wished he was wearing a Kevlar vest for protection. Yellow “chaplain” lettering on the back of a shirt would not keep a criminal from firing shots.
Naturally the greatest question is “who was shot?” Was is an officer that we knew? Was it an officer that came to our police service? Was it an officer who heard the gospel and accepted it at some point in their life? or not? How will my husband do if it was one of his friends and he has to try to comfort the other officers amidst his own inner sadness? The questions quickly outnumbered any chance of immediate answers.
The text came to me two hours after he left, “It looks like it’s going to be a long night. Go to bed whenever.” My mind would not shut off and I began having Braxton-Hicks contractions from the stress of worry. He returned in the wee hours of the morning exhausted but determined to get up at 5:45 am and be at the debriefing at the police headquarters to be able to minister if needed. He spent the next 48 hours with little sleep, helping deliver meals, being available for meetings, and listening to angry and broken hearts of the men and women in blue.
The officer that did die was a friend of my husband and the weight did compound itself on his shoulders. When the autopsy was complete, the answer concluded nothing could have been done to save his life. The injuries from the shots were fatal. For my husband, past conversations became meaninful and the fun and good interactions they shared became valuable memories now treasured.
He ministered what he could all during his last week of working in our church – I admired him for his commitment to make a difference. I pitied him for his torn heart between the loss of his friend and the end of his “ministry” in our current church. The end for both was certain, two chapters closed in his life at one time. A week later he attended the officer’s funeral and completed his last official chaplain duties. The tune of the bagpipes that played in honor of his friend filled his mind for weeks following.
The Value of the Chaplaincy
At first I did not want him to be a police chaplain, selfishly I wanted his time to be mine. In time the Lord showed me that my “sacrifice” was really a gift to my husband. The chaplain training classes he received were so closely related to being able to be applied to ministry situations, it was invaluable. Learning to make death notifications, comforting hurting family members, and the importance of confidentiality (and more!) all will help him in other future situations with ministering to others.
The one-on-one contact he received from men and women in law enforcement gave him friends and contacts in the community who were outside our church family. When you move to a city not knowing anyone besides those you are going to church with and are very heavily scheduled in ministry activities sometimes getting out into the community as much as you would like to may not be possible… even if you are regularly going out door-to-door and making visits. Going on ride-a-longs and visiting the precinct was a good thing for him. As we ministered to them yearly in our specific church police ministries, it became a good thing for our family. His officer friends became regular topics of conversation as well as specific people we were praying for – not just their safety, but their salvation and spiritual growth.
The desire my husband had to become a chaplain became a burden on my heart over time and became an extension of our current ministry and allowed us to serve together toward loving a group of people in their own unique mission field. I only hope chaplain work will be in my husband’s life again in the future because it showed us a glimpse of the officers’ and their families’ lives. Police work and ministry work have a lot in common, which is a whole other blog post in itself! I hope someday I can be a police chaplain’s wife again.