By Pastor Ricardo Graham
While we are undergoing the shutdown caused by the incessant spread of the coronavirus, the first responders among us continue to step up and valiantly provide the protection and lifesaving services the country needs.
I have never needed to call 911 for an ambulance, firefighters, or police help. However, I have been in the care of nurses and physicians—first responders who unselfishly and compassionately serve in hospitals, clinics, and urgent care centers to alleviate suffering.
I talked to Paula Weir-Scott, RN, a member of the Market Street church in Oakland, California. She works in a hospital emergency department. “My life as a healthcare worker has been one of happiness and joy for many reasons,” she says. “I became a registered nurse because I love people. I love to care for and serve others who need medical care. No matter the ethnicity, socioeconomical background, or medical condition, I choose to give compassion and love. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, being a caregiver has its stressors every day—wearing uncomfortable PPE for hours, isolating myself from family members, and taking care of the very ill who have no family beside them. When I chose the profession of a registered nurse, I took the commitment seriously to provide compassion, excellent medical care, and sensitivity to all people.”
Before everything was in lockdown, I attended a meeting at Adventist Health in which Alex Bryan, chief mission officer, gave a presentation that documented historically how modern hospitals and healthcare are an outgrowth of Christian compassion. Hospitals as we know them today had their origins in the responses of compassionate early Christian communities to the epidemics and disasters of the time.
Bryan told us that Eusebius, a historian of Christianity, wrote this about the Roman plague of 312-313 A.D.: “The fruits of the Christians’ limitless enthusiasm and devotion became evident to all. Alone in the midst of this terrible calamity they proved by visible deeds their sympathy and humanity. All day long some continued without rest to tend the dying and bury them—the number was immense, and there was no one to see them; others rounded up the huge number who had been reduced to scarecrows all over the city and distributed loaves to them all, so that their praises were sung on every side.”
Did you catch the words sympathy and humanity? Those early Christians were “first responders” long before that descriptive phrase was ever used.
First responders also include our law enforcement personnel, who work on the frontlines every day to keep our communities safe. They never know what they may face in the performance of their duty. Those in uniform frequently put themselves in harm’s way as they “serve and protect,” keep the peace, and safeguard lives and property.
Deputy Sheriff Anthony Sanchez of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department was recently interviewed by Faith Hoyt, communication specialist and assistant editor of the Recorder. Sanchez, a Seventh-day Adventist, stated that he “became a police officer to be able to spread the gospel to those in need, and to provide safety to those who cannot protect themselves. In a world filled with hurting people, I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I be the light in their life while doing my job?’ I wanted to become a police officer since I was little; I always looked up to them. When I joined, I knew it was the correct decision, and I knew God was going to have great plans for me.”
You may have never wondered why law enforcement personnel might join that profession, and Sanchez’s explanation might surprise you. But his thoughtful and perceptive comments make me even more grateful for the protection and safety the police provide. Officer Sanchez and thousands of his colleagues are to be thanked for their unselfish service to others.
As of this writing 14,000 firefighters are fighting the second, third, and fourth largest fires ever to ignite in the state of California. Over 42,000 people have been displaced, many of them losing their homes.
Noe Anthony Lopez has been a firefighter and paramedic for nearly 21 years. He started with the L.A. Fire department and is now with San Pedro Fire Station 36. He told me that he first got interested in the profession when he was 18, about to graduate from high school, and not exactly sure of his next step.
While riding with a friend, he witnessed a car strike a bicyclist, who was then propelled through the air onto the pavement. They stopped their car and watched as others exited their cars to aid the wounded cyclist. Someone called the police, and soon paramedics arrived. They gave care to the injured man and had him stabilized in less than 15 minutes.
It was then that Lopez knew his calling. He went to the fire station nearby, saw the paramedic who had given aid to the bicyclist, and told him, “I want be you!” The paramedic responded, “You can’t be me; you gotta be you!” Lopez then said, “Well, I want to do what you do.” After several years as a rookie, he landed a full-time position working with the same paramedic he had spoken to after the bicycle incident and partnered with him for several years.
When asked how he saw God in his profession, he related a story about being called to a church that had been targeted by arson. As he and his partner entered the church, they couldn’t see anything. Smoke completely filled the sanctuary; flames were attacking the interior walls, but the room was totally black. Being familiar with church sanctuaries, they found the center aisle and walked towards the altar, looking for the source of the smoke. He paused, then felt his partner gently pushing him forward. After a few more steps, he saw a glow and realized that was the base of the fire.
Later, after the fire was extinguished, he thanked his partner for the push prompting him forward. “Huh?” his partner said. “You left me way behind in the middle of the aisle! That wasn’t me.” He realized that God or an angel must have edged him forward to find the fire source that he was looking for. He recognized that God was with him in the darkness of life, that God is always there.
Lopez and his wife have two children, both of whom have decided to become first responders. Their daughter has decided on nursing, and their son has chosen to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a firefighter.
A song kept running through my head while I spoke with these courageous first responders. Do you remember “We Are His Hands” by Jeff Wood?
“We are His hands to touch the world around us.
We are His feet to go where He may lead,
And we are His love burning in the darkness.
We are His love shining in the night.”
The healthcare workers’ healing touch. The law enforcement officers’ willing feet. The firefighters facing the darkness. What do they all have in common? Their compassionate care for suffering humanity. “His love shining in the night.” I believe this compassion links them to Christ, the Compassionate One who spent His ministry on Earth healing, serving, and saving others.
Of course, not all first responders are ardent believers in the Christian ethic of love, but even if they aren’t, they are interested in helping others, in improving the status of the suffering. First responders have a special calling. We are blessed to have them among us.
There are many others that I don’t have room to write about here—for instance, those who serve in the military, who protect our country and stand ready to go to war for us. To all of the first responders, we offer our heartfelt thanks and prayers that God will bless you and keep you safe.
Ricardo Graham is the president of the
Pacific Union Conference.