As families and friends grieve the deaths of loved ones in the shooting massacre in Las Vegas, pray for the recovery of the wounded, or search frantically for news about their loved ones, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is deploying chaplains to minister to those impacted by the horrific shooting.
The Rapid Response Team was created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and has ministered to people following more than 300 acts of violence and natural disasters since that time.
Just this year, chaplains responded to the Berlin truck attack, terrorism in Barcelona and Manchester, and in the wake of deadly hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Its mission is simple.
“We do it to share the love and compassion that we know comes from the only God that we serve and comes through His Son, Jesus Christ,” said Jeff Nader, manager of chaplain development and chaplain relations at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Monday morning, the group immediately made plans to help in Las Vegas.
“We stopped everything else we were doing in the office and dedicated every minute to moving chaplains in this direction,” said Nader. “Today we have 18 chaplains here on the ground, many of them just landed. We had chaplains out near the site of the shooting last night and around Mandalay Bay until midnight.”
Nader says the Rapid Response Team ministers in multiple ways, but he says the biggest focus is on the ministry of presence, literally just being there for hurting people.
“Most people can probably look back on a time when they were sitting in an emergency room waiting area or someplace else, wishing someone else was there with them during their lonely time. Having a chaplain walk up just to be there with them is over half the work that we do,” said Naber.
“That’s going on right now and I ask you to pray at this very moment for people who are talking with and for people who are standing next to one of our chaplains, that they would feel the love and they would feel the compassion that flows from our chaplains to them from Christ,” said Naber.
The next focal point is praying with the people impacted by the massacre.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve prayed with people at the airport. I’ve prayed with people who were serving me food. I prayed with the person at the (hotel) front desk. We ask people if they would like to pray, not to pray for them but to pray with them,” said Naber.
“In this town, with what happened, everyone just stops what they’re doing and openly says yes when we ask that question about prayer,” said Naber.
The third element of the Rapid Response Team is to share the gospel.
“We pray that the Holy Spirit will open the hearts of people. It’s not everyone we come in contact with but specific people, that their hearts are open and that they would be accepting of not only hearing the message of salvation, but of accepting Jesus as their savior,” said Naber.
As the days march on, the team will look to connect people they minister to with local churches.
The Rapid Response Team is accustomed to getting some blowback to its presence in these places. Naber says some don’t want them there, but that doesn’t change the mission.
“We know there are people and groups that oppose us. But we’re to love on them the same as anyone else. We will probably have opportunities here to meet people who are opposed to what our mission is and may be opposed to God,” said Naber.
He says the ministry is to the entire Las Vegas community because virtually everyone has some sort of personal connection with people impacted by the attack.
“An event like this can have such a devastating impact on the emotional and spiritual parts of us. It can affect the whole community and that’s what we’re here for is to help people through that time and to show them the love and the comfort that only comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ,” said Naber.