Staying Strong in a Crisis
Guideposts|October 2020
Staying Strong in a Crisis
Five lessons from a Red Cross chaplain
REV. EARL JOHNSON

WE ARE LIVING IN FRIGHTEN-ING, tumultuous times. Coro-navirus continues its spread across the globe, killing hundreds of thousands of people, its toll of sickness and economic disruption affecting millions more. The poor and people of color have been particularly hard hit. There have been protests and demands for change. It’s hard not to feel helpless. Hard to stay hopeful.

But it is important to remember that we have been here before—many times, in fact. As a chaplain and as the national spiritual care manager for the American Red Cross, I have witnessed firsthand how our country has come together in times of crisis, how God works through each of us and how there are ways to give and receive comfort, small yet powerful acts of kindness, even when life seems darkest. Here are five examples.

Comfort comes from compassion

I grew up in tiny Boonville, Missouri. My father was an auto mechanic, and my mother was a homemaker dedicated to volunteering at church and helping out family and friends. I remember many a night when my dad would open our house to strangers whose cars had broken down. And my mother would run errands for people who didn’t drive. It wasn’t just my family. Neighbors helped neighbors. That was who we were. I felt called to a life of service too. The 1960s, when I came of age, were a time of unrest and change. I wanted to do something to make the world a better place. After graduating from Yale Divinity School, I went to work as a pastor back home in Missouri.

In time, I was drawn to ministering to people one-on-one, particularly those who’d been left out of mainstream society. I became a hospital chaplain and moved to New York City in the mid-1990s to take a job on an AIDS unit. It was heartbreaking work. Many patients had been ostracized by their families. They felt rejected even by God. I wanted to show them that they were loved, to bring a little joy into their lives.

One summer I was ministering to a patient who had only weeks to live. He had told me how much he’d loved Christmas growing up. So what if it was July? I set up a Charlie Brown tree in his room. Hung garland from his windows. Brought in a boom box to play his favorite carols. Lastly, I got permission from the hospital for his dog to visit.

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October 2020