DALLAS (ABP) — Victim Relief Ministries, a Dallas-based non-profit organization with Baptist ties, will have the lead role in mobilizing the country's faith community in the event of a terrorist attack or mass-casualty situation.
At the request of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the national organization will train volunteer victim-relief chaplains during training sessions in Southern California Aug. 27-28, Dallas Sept. 24-25 and New York City Oct. 7-9.
Gene Grounds, the organization's executive director, wants to develop “first response” teams in the nation's 100 largest cities, with help from at least 10 percent of the churches in each site. Response teams would meet the immediate needs of victims, and other trained church groups would minister to them in the long term.
The group follows the model Grounds sees in the biblical story of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan met immediate physical and emotional needs but also provided long-term care for the man who was robbed and beaten.
Victim-relief chaplains fill a niche in the system, said Rickey Hargrave, a police chaplain and board member of the Dallas organization. While police chaplains minister to police officers and fire chaplains serve firefighters, they rarely serve victims, especially for long periods of time, he said.
“On the front end of the tragedy, everyone responds until the person gets released from the hospital or there is a funeral,” agreed Grounds, whose organization is supported in part by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “Then the victim is left to ask 'Where did everyone go?' Our task is to answer 'Who is there after the police are gone?'”
This ministry can help people recover faster from trauma, Hargrave said. They provide immediate and continuing counseling that is invaluable. “We are here to help people through difficult times, helping them return to normalcy, helping them return to a place where they can see there is a loving God,” Hargrave said.
Victim-relief chaplains minister in other situations as well, including violent crime scenes, natural disasters and car crashes, noted Bobby Martin, director of church program ministry for the Dallas Baptist Association. “People are searching for life answers after these tragedies,” he said. “And of course the life answer is God.”
Victim Relief Ministries has trained 1,200 volunteers nationally, Grounds said. Five Texas Baptists recently took a training trip to Israel, where they learned about ways to minimize trauma related to terrorist attacks.
Grounds said he hopes the group's efforts will better prepare the faith community to respond to traumatic situations. Volunteers will be ready to serve following violent crimes or accidents, as well as in the case of terrorist attacks.
“Life changed on Sept. 11 for all Americans,” Grounds said. “We are no longer safe on our own soil. I personally worked two weeks on the pile in New York City. I've trained thousands to be prepared for the next terrorist attacks.”