“Do you consider yourself a first responder?” The question seemed odd at first, but it was sincere. The person who asked had not mistaken me for a firefighter or a police officer or a paramedic. Something different was meant.
Not only as a pastor, but as a person who is a Christian, do I consider myself a first responder? Am I serving on the front lines of contact with people in need? Am I one of the first people on the scene in times of trouble?
This question had been lingering for several weeks when last week I saw a photo and then a news report that went viral online. Perhaps you also saw the photo of young baristas at Dutch Bros. Coffee in Vancouver, Wash., praying with a distraught woman at the drive-through window.
According to news reports, the photo was snapped by a woman in line behind the car in question. By this eyewitness account, the woman in the car had just lost her 37-year-old husband the night before. The photographer, Barbara Danner, explained on Facebook: “When the DB guys and gals noticed she was falling apart, they stopped everything and prayed with her for several minutes, invited her to come back for prayer and support, as well as anything else that she might need.”
Two of the Dutch Bros. employees reaching out to the distraught woman were Pierce Dunn and Evan Freeman. They told a local TV news station that they had been taught by their employer to connect with customers, to seek interactions more than simply transactions. It is obvious now that they also had been taught by their faith community to care for people in need. They instinctively knew how to be spiritual first responders.
Of course, there’s a line here that must be acknowledged. Some people — and especially some Christians — can’t wait to find places to insert themselves into someone else’s pain because they so need to be needed. That’s not the kind of first responder Christians need to be. And it’s not the kind of first responders the coffee shop employers want to be either; they were concerned that all publicity about the event would make it appear to be about them.
True first responders are trained and know their boundaries; they realize that their work often is temporary until they can hand off responsibility to secondary responders who have more expertise and time.
One of the most beloved parables in the New Testament is about a first responder. Jesus taught the virtue of the Good Samaritan, who didn’t pass by on the other side of the road like the pious religious leaders did when confronted with a man beaten and robbed. But remember that the Good Samaritan didn’t try to solve the beaten man’s problems all by himself. He responded by getting the man to a place of care.
So how about you? Do you consider yourself a first responder? Do you have the capacity to reach out to someone in an urgent time of need, knowing that you may not have the ability to bring long-term resolution to the problem?
It’s popular these days for Christians to talk about being the “hands and feet of Jesus” wherever they go. The hands and feet, of course, are the outer extremities, the front line of human touch. Hands and feet, however, are motivated by the inner spirit, by the heart and soul of a person.
Those coffee shop employees in the Pacific Northwest reached out their hands in prayer because their hearts were touched. May it be so with each of us as well.