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Being the rock of Christ at the coal face

Tuesday 7 April 2015

When a troubled highway patrol officer saw police chaplain Geoff Deutscher at the station one lunch time, he tapped him on the shoulder and asked if they could have a chat.

So they went into a private room where the police officer opened his heart to the only clergyman he knew, revealing that he was in a dark place in his relationship with his wife and he didn’t know how to resolve the conflict.

“He said the profound words, ‘I’ve never told anybody this before,’” recalls Deutscher. “Immediately you are on incredibly sacred territory, because the level of trust at that moment is sky high.”

After talking for a while, Deutscher suggested that the officer’s wife needed to be part of the conversation, and at 4pm that day he was at their place, listening to their story.

“What’s beautiful is that I was in a café one day and I saw him and his wife holding hands, walking up the street. I could have jumped out of my chair for joy! I said, ‘Thank you, God. I may not have saved someone but I’ve helped a couple get through a rough patch.’”

The police deal with unique challenges in their work, Deutscher notes. They have to attend suicides, car crashes where “bodies are smashed into a million pieces” and domestic violence incidents, not to mention being spat on by drunk people. “They do an extraordinary job and because of that they carry huge emotional pain, but not all of them realise it.”

Not all police survive the job, with US statistics showing that 53 police officers die in the line of duty each year while 484 commit suicide. In NSW, 192 police officers died between 1990 and May 2005. Of those, 103 were referred to the coroner, including 35 suicides, representing 20 per cent of deaths.

“That’s a jumbo jet load of people not surviving the job,” Deutscher observes. “And the key reason is when a police officer puts on his uniform and comes to work, his brain functions at a higher level. A phone call will come that will take them to a destination where they’re not sure what will confront them. They might have a knife pulled on them, they might have to deal with a domestic, or a cot death, or a child having a fit at a preschool centre. Police don’t trust anybody – and it’s right that
they don’t because they want to go home at night.”

As police chaplain first at Ulladulla NSW and now at Castle Hill in Sydney, Deutscher is seen as part of the police family but one step removed. He tends to ask simple “Are you OK?” kind of questions, building trust by being “as Christ”, loving, kind and encouraging.

“It’s particularly hard for senior officers, who are charged with looking after the troops under them but don’t get a lot of support from above, from officers who may be in another station somewhere.”

“In Ulladulla, the highest ranking officer said, ‘In all my time I never had anybody like you to talk to. You were my rock.’ I was blown away because all I did was ask how he was going, and took an interest in his family.”

At Ulladulla, Deutscher was able to give every single officer a copy of the Bible Society Police Bible. “That was quite a powerful thing. Whether people read them or not, I don’t know, but they were very warmly received. You never ever know, when putting a Bible in a person’s hand, what that is going to do.”

Deutscher is just one of scores of chaplains who work tirelessly with those on the front line to offer the hope and word of God in times of need. In the year that we observe Gallipoli’s centenary, we’re reminded that every frontline chaplain is doing battle against ‘the enemy’ in their
own way, every day of the year.

In police and emergency services, prisons, juvenile justice centres, hospitals, seafarer missions and more, chaplains engage people with the Bible and help them find comfort in God’s word.

The Bible helps so many chaplains like Geoff Deutscher make a difference in the lives of the distressed, the hurting and the isolated.

This vital means of spreading God’s word could not happen without the generosity of supporters. On average, it costs $11 to provide a Bible, and Bible Society urgently needs to raise funds so it can supply 62,000 Bibles and Scripture materials this year to chaplains on the front line. Will you help us provide Bibles to chaplains?


Image: Thinkstock.

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