Specially trained Foursquare members were among those at the heart of the response to the June 12 mass killing at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub that stunned the nation.
Willie Barnes, a Foursquare Chaplains International police chaplain who also serves as senior pastor of International Church of Faith (Winter Garden Foursquare Church) in the Orlando suburb of Winter Garden, was called away from his Sunday morning service hours after the shooting to join other professionals caring for the families awaiting news of their loved ones.
Though he has been to many crime scenes during his 18 years with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the magnitude of the situation he faced was “horrific,” he recalls. “There was so much emotion.”
Willie consoled and prayed with people during the next several days, helping shield them from the media when they left the processing center where all those affected were waiting. “When word came about who had been killed, the place went crazy,” he says. “There was screaming like you have never heard.”
But it was only when he got to visit the scene of the killings at Pulse a few days later that he shed tears of his own. “Just seeing the memorials brought it home,” he says. “It made me think of my own family.”
During his days on chaplain duty, Willie relied on the Holy Spirit to guide him as he offered hugs and a listening ear. It was not a time for a lot of words, he notes, but simply sharing the peace of God through being there.
“My main job was to be a presence,” he explains, “to offer the comfort of the Lord. You must have His presence yourself—if you don’t have it, you can’t take it with you.”
Maria Parker and her husband, Alan, both assisting ministers at Sunrise (Port Orange Foursquare Church) in Port Orange, Fla., were part of a five-strong team of Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR) responders who offered bottles of cold water and care at the different memorial sites around Orlando.
“We were there to give water, a hug, to be a listening ear,” says Maria, “and if the opportunity arose, we would offer prayer.” Among those Maria prayed with were sisters whose cousin was one of the wounded.
Many of those the Parkers encountered were tourists drawn to pay their respects. “They were not personally connected but still felt the loss,” she says, noting that the impact of major tragedies such as the Orlando shooting goes far beyond those directly affected. “This kind of loss can stir up the past in people, perhaps something that happened to them, some loss or sorrow that they experienced. It almost reopens an old wound.”
“My main job was to be a presence, to offer the comfort of the Lord. You must have His presence yourself—if you don’t have it, you can’t take it with you.”
—Willie Barnes, Foursquare police chaplain and senior pastor of Winter Garden Foursquare Church in the Orlando, Fla., area
In such situations, first responders and chaplains have the opportunity to be “a bridge” to local congregations, offering comfort and care that may connect people with a local church for further ministry and support, Maria adds.
Chaplain support is vital for local churches that may not have all the resources or expertise needed to meet a crisis situation, states Gary Grubbs, FDR U.S. operations chief. He helped coordinate crisis ministry training for Foursquare churches in the Orlando area wanting to be part of ministry efforts, and mobilized the FDR team.
The Orlando shooting highlights the need for more people to join the 125 or so Foursquare members across the country currently trained as FDR responders, Gary says. The two-day class they complete gives them admittance as officially approved caregivers to crisis areas that may have restricted access.
“It’s imperative to have people ready and trained for situations,” asserts Gary, who in late June had teams deployed to areas in three states affected by flooding and fires. “We need people prepared in their own regions so they can respond quickly.”
Crisis situations provide “an open door” for Christians to bring the peace and presence of God, he says, “to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and offer hope.” FDR sends teams “strictly as a support to the local church,” Gary adds, “offering any help we can in their ministry to their community.”