As I write this week’s article, my wife and I are in Rochester, New York where we have been attending the Free Methodist Church’s Annual Chaplains Conference. This is a wonderful time to connect with other chaplains throughout our denomination.
As such things go, there is always business that has to be done in order for any organization to effectively function, and we have done our fair share of infrastructural maintenance. My observations over the years have been that the best part in attending such events is the opportunity to meet with colleagues and fellow chaplains, renewing acquaintances, and sharing stories.
I thought I might share several of these stories with you that I picked up during our two-plus days together. The experiences of some of these Free Methodist chaplains range from the ridiculous to the sublime.
Chris was one of the chaplains in my discussion group on the second morning. He is a Jail Chaplain for a county jail facility in New York State. The prisoners in this lockup are mostly druggies, forgerers, and the like. Most spend less than a year in this facility. Chris shared one rather humorous situation in which an inmate was informed that his mother had died. However, the family was so disgusted with his irresponsible lifestyle that they specifically asked the corrections facility to not allow him to attend the funeral. The inmate was distraught over not being present for his mother’s funeral, so a couple of the COs (Corrections Officers) figured they could discretely take him to the cemetery and have him view the burial from a position elevated above the gravesite, undetected by the family and friends gathered below. As the inmate stood amongst the trees, shackled, and in the snow, he inched closer to the edge to look over at the ceremony. As luck would have it, he leaned a bit too far and fell, sliding down a bank of snow, crashing headlong into the casket. This, obviously, created no small amount of furor from the family. The poor inmate was stuck on the ground with his irate father kicking him until the COs could extricate him from the embarrassing dilemma.
Just this morning as we were all saying our goodbyes, another chaplain, John, shared this most heartwarming story. You remember the Elian Gonzalez case from 2000? This was the young Cuban boy brought to the U.S. by his mother, but she died enroute, then rescued by an American fisherman, and eventually was returned to Cuba to be reunited with his father. It was a big story involving controversy over his return to Cuba and the arguably mishandling of this situation by then Attorney General Janet Reno and the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) officers. A number of churches were very involved, including one of our Free Methodist chaplains. John says that when the administration ordered that the boy be returned to Cuba he felt that he should give both Elian and his father something to take back with them. He first gave each of them the newly minted Sacagawea dollar coin, but decided that was too materialistic. So he then gave them a Spanish bible from the ABS (American Bible Society). They no sooner got back to Cuba when a message to John came through requesting 15,000 more bibles which the ABS promptly provided. Even through this horrific international incident, God worked in such a way as to have young Elian and his father be the means for bringing thousands of bibles into this tightly controlled communist country.
Next week I will conclude with two more stories from a chaplain who shared how, during a crisis in his teen years, two Christian men had a major impact on the direction of his life.