Certified to Help

Emotional and Spiritual Care When It Matters
February 25, 2019

Hurricanes, tornadoes and shootings are tragedies now commonplace in the world. In the aftermath of disaster, people need to be cared for spiritually as well as physically. That’s why Adventist Community Services (ACS) in the Southwestern Union is training pastors and lay people to become Certified Emotional and Spiritual Care Providers. Within the last year, 47 individuals received the national certification through ACS, and are now prepared to offer support in times of tragedy.

“After Hurricane Harvey and the Sutherland Springs shooting, we got calls asking if we had any Emotional and Spiritual Care Provider teams,” says Marshall Gonzales, director of ACS for the Southwestern Union and the Texas Conference. “I felt bad because I had to say no. We didn’t have any. Because of that, and knowing the needs and times we are living in, we decided to make this available.”

At first, ACS offered training for this certification to Seventh-day Adventist pastors and spouses in Texas. Next year, ACS hopes to provide training to all people interested in contributing emotional and spiritual support to the community.

Certified individuals are prepared to step into a scene of tragedy, listen to hurting people, assess needs and provide emotional and spiritual support. That support includes basic crisis communication techniques, psychological and physiological crisis intervention and critical incident stress management. Some individuals also elect to take a suicide intervention course.

“Pastors are trained to do ministry,” says Julie Gonzales, co-director of ACS for the Southwestern Union and the Texas Conference. “They are trained to work with individuals, but the way we reach out to individuals in a time of disaster, or in a time of need, is different. It’s a different way to minister to people. That’s why this training is important.”

After the suicide intervention course, one pastor shared, “I just realized I’ve been doing things incorrectly. I realize that I need to be more mindful of the words I use to comfort people and how I interact with people.”

Even months after a tragedy, Emotional and Spiritual Care Providers are still needed in the community. There is a great need for more people to become certified. The goal is for ACS to have a list of trained teams at the ready in all areas of the Southwestern Union. Training and certification are offered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and ACS. It takes place over a series of three courses.

“It would just be a benefit for us to have more and more pastors and lay people trained and available to help in these situations,” says Marshall. “Even now, people think that Harvey is all done with, but it’s not. They still need teams in Houston, almost a year later.

Julie and I have both been in the area right where the hurricane came in. They talk about how the people are so depressed and down. Now I can tell them that we have a team close to their area that can help.”

People who wish to provide support on the scenes of tragedy must be Certified Emotional and Spiritual Care Providers. If you have any questions or would like to find out more about becoming certified, contact Marshall and Julie Gonzales at acs@txsda.org.

By Makala James. James lives with her husband, Denny, in Granbury, Texas. Marshall and Julie Gonzales are the directors of Adventist Community Services for the Southwestern Union and the Texas Conference. They live in Keene, Texas.