Travel and Turmoil: A Day in the Life of a Chaplain

Les Palmer arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico several months before I did. We were both new employees at Calvary of Albuquerque. As it turned out, our offices were right next door to each other in what we called “The Cave.”

Dr. Jacotte Prevalis, Haiti SWAT Team Captain and Les

Through our initial conversations, we realized we had a lot in common: both coming from California to New Mexico and both of us living in San Diego County for a time. We had common acquaintances and had the same church family, Calvary Chapel.
And then it happened: Les began to disappear.
One day he was in his office; the next week he would be gone. A few days back and then Les would disappear for three weeks. In between all his disappearances, he would update us on his life and ministry.
As my life revolved around reading, editing, and project management, his life revolved around travel and intense ministry to others.
So goes the life of a chaplain.
So what exactly does a chaplain do? Well—and without being sarcastic—I’ve come to respond, through knowing Les, what doesn’t a chaplain do?
Marvel at the past six-months of Les’s schedule: In February, he taught 100 the basics in “Grief Following Trauma” in Albuquerque. From there, he flew to Haiti for almost three weeks to work as a chaplain with the Billy Graham Evangelical Association Rapid Response Team.

Les and Carla in Haitian Hospital

For six days in March, Les taught the IFOC five-day “Basic Chaplain” course in Albuquerque. At the end of March, he worked with the NMAS preparing and distributing food. April 5-26 found him working at Calvary in pastoral counseling and leading three training classes for chaplains. From April 27 through May 2, he flew to Birmingham, Alabama and taught “CISM” and “Spiritual Care in Disasters” for Mission Birmingham. The month of May found him responding once again with the Rapid Response Team, this time to the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee. From May 27 to May 28, he came home to Calvary Chapel Albuquerque to resume pastoral counseling.
From June 7 through 12, he attended the Flagstone, Arizona Sheriff’s Department CISM Training. From June 13 through 19, Les flew to Asheville, North Carolina to teach at the Billy Graham Training Center on “Emotional and Spiritual Care in Disasters”. From June 21 through June 28, he returned to Calvary Chapel Albuquerque for AFD Stress Management training. On June 29, he was deployed to Texas as part of Texas Task Force Austin in preparation for Hurricane Alex. On July 5, he resumed pastoral counseling at Calvary Chapel Albuquerque. From July 12-16, Les responded to SWAT operations in Albuquerque, had training in Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking and attended a banquet with “Wings for Life”. On July 17, he attended a prayer breakfast and a debriefing of the teams responding to SWAT operations.
And throughout this schedule, when not deployed, Les is an on-call community chaplain, as well as a volunteer chaplain with Albuquerque Fire Department.
I asked him about just a few occurrences in this hectic schedule. First, what was Haiti like?
Les paused, then answered, “There was unbelievable devastation and hardship for the 1.8 million people displaced by the earthquake. Yet in the midst of one of the worst natural disasters, I saw God’s hand clearly in the circumstances. Many heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Haitians saw the love of God poured upon them through the lives of so many Christian churches that responded. It made me realize what it meant to pray for our daily bread.”
What about all his training and classes?
“In every class the emphasis is the same,” Les replied. “We are God-ordained but man-certified. I teach everyone that God needs someone to represent Him in the midst of a crisis. He is sitting on the throne and merely needs our body available to go and represent Him. The training they receive is simply another tool to equip them to do the work of His ministry.”
Could he explain a bit about his travels to Birmingham, Alabama?
“Mission Birmingham is an organization of 57 community churches preparing to help the community in times of crisis. Their desire is to train up 500 chaplains to cross denominational boundaries and help the citizens of Alabama in disaster situations,” Les explained.
How did you respond to the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee?

Les and Bernita, a homeowner in Nashville

Les decided this could best be explained in another man’s words, a man he ministered to in Nashville. “John said, ‘I left the church 20 years ago because I didn’t wear the right clothes. But this past week, watching the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers come and gut out my home, I’ve seen the love of God in actions—not in empty words.”
According to Decision magazine, “Les Palmer also traveled to New Orleans when Katrina hit. He spent 21 months out of the first two years down in the Gulf – three weeks out of every month.
He shared why he feels compelled to return: “I do it because God put it on my heart to do it. I was sitting on my couch in San Diego on Labor Day weekend five years ago and I was watching the people walk through the floods and I was just brought to tears. I cried out to God and said, ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’ I love to be able to share the hope and love of Jesus Christ and bring His presence in the midst of a crisis. That’s my heart’s desire.”
Finally, what does Les believe about his calling as a chaplain?
“I love training people to become chaplains because I believe God has given us all a measure of compassion. If we let Him use us in a way that His compassion and love is poured out, nothing can stand in the way of unconditional love. God is love and love never fails. The chaplaincy ministry is built on chapter 9 verses 36 through 38 in the Gospel of Matthew. The past week was very difficult because it was a situation in our own community. We’re so used to going elsewhere to help, but in this case we were called to help our own people. There is a crisis on every street corner and every pew in America—the training equips us for either event.”
Through trials, travel, and turmoil, the chaplain’s life is one of service: first and foremost unto the Lord and then to the people the Lord has entrusted to their care. Les, and the fellow chaplain’s he serves with, are a living example of reaching out to the hurting, the lonely, and the lost. They are a reminder that God is working in the most desperate and critical situations around the world.
Remember to pray for the chaplains in your community, expressing your appreciation and encouragement.

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

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