Chaplains get ready for February training event
HOUSTON—Harold Bruening missed riding in a patrol car after he left law enforcement to enter full-time ministry. He’s back in the patrol cars these days, serving as a volunteer for those who enforce the law.
As an official part of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s (MSHP) chaplains’ program, Bruening serves the officers in Troop G. Chaplains like Bruening are preparing for a Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) training event Feb. 7-9 at Cross Pointe Retreat Center, Rocky Mount, which is being put on by MBC Family Ministries. Teaching will be provided by Corporate Chaplains of America, a training partner with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Cost is $65 per person for two nights of lodging and six meals. Register online at www.mobaptist.org/family or by calling Cindy Reichard at (573) 636-0400, ext. 421.
Chaplains like Bruening can be found in all parts of Missouri.
“Our main emphasis is working with troopers and families, not necessarily incidents they become involved in,” he said.
Troop G has lost three troopers in the seven or eight years Bruening has been its chaplain – two in accidents and one in a shooting. The challenge has been to provide counseling not only for their families but for the families of other officers as well.
“The wives don’t want their husbands to go out for fear they won’t come back,” he said. He also cites the emotional responses of their jobs and scheduling as points of stress for troopers with families. He prays for troopers by name when they are on duty.
Bruening said, “I have a passion for these guys. Probably the most satisfying thing for me is being there for them when they’re going through emotional trauma.”
While his volunteer chaplaincy with the MSHP is an official designation, he finds himself ministering to other Texas County emergency responders in an unofficial capacity. He is often on the scene at crisis situations because of his work with the Red Cross, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Disaster Relief, and his training in critical incident stress management.
“People who have not been involved in emergency response don’t realize the trauma these guys go through,” said Bruening, who is associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Houston, and serves as unofficial chaplain for most emergency services in Texas County.
Emergency responders receive training for the physical part of their jobs but do not usually receive in-depth training for dealing with the emotional part of their jobs, he said.
“The biggest problem for all types of emergency responders is the fact that most of them are Type A personalities, accustomed to taking charge and getting things done under pressure. There is a tendency to ignore the emotional side, and it eats on them.”
Emergency workers, for instance, train to operate the Jaws of Life, but don’t train for the emotional aspect of dealing with the sounds and sights of injured people in pain.
Breuning, who was a part-time city policeman, a member of the sheriff’s reserve, and—before that—a Vietnam War veteran, advises them that “you never get over it. You have to learn to live with it.” To help them do that, he makes himself available to listen when they need to talk.
For his work with the Highway Patrol, he attends training once a year at the MSHP academy at his own travel expense. Food, lodging, and training are provided by the patrol.
On the other side of the ministry coin is Chaplain John Hunter, who ministers to those who break the law and enter the Missouri Department of Corrections’ Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center.
Approximately 10,000 people go through the center each year, so it is impossible to build individual rapport with each inmate. Instead, Hunter depends on volunteers to carry out the one-on-one ministry to prisoners. He coordinates the work of approximately 30 such volunteers.
“We allow them to do whatever they are willing to do properly,” said Hunter. This might involve talking individually with prisoners, preaching, typing, counseling, delivering death notices involving family members, showing Christian movies, or referring departing inmates to a halfway house.
The need for volunteers is great, and the ministry has been fruitful.
There are Bible studies, recovery groups, or praise and prayer services going on at the center every day of the week. It is not unusual to see 30 to 60 people baptized each month. Several male prisoners have started preparing for ministry.
Volunteers are allowed to go into the facility to sing, preach, or work one time. After that, they must meet requirements established by the Department of Corrections. These include random drug testing, tuberculosis testing, fingerprinting, background checks, and one day of training every year. After passing all of that, they are considered unpaid staff.
Hunter, who was a pastor before joining the staff at the center and is now a member of Rising Sun Baptist Church in Auxvasse, tried to do prison ministry in addition to pastoring but found he couldn’t do both. Ten years ago, he entered prison ministry full-time.
His favorite part of the ministry is seeing lives changed.
“I like it when I see people who had hopelessness, frustration, and anger replace them with purpose, meaning, and direction because of their faith in Jesus Christ,” he said.
The chaplains retreat will begin with dinner at 6 p.m. Feb. 7. Feb. 8 will be a full day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Feb. 9 will run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.