Training for tragedy

Participants give full attention at the Sharing Hope in Crisis seminar in Doncaster
Participants give full attention at the seminar in Doncaster
Last month thirty-one people gathered at St James church in central Doncaster for the latest Sharing Hope in Crisis seminar, organised by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritans Purse.

The one-day interactive course is the first stage in training to become a Rapid Response Chaplain. It also equips people with the skills and confidence to respond to crises in their local community.

People travelled some distance to the training – from Leicester, Nottingham, Chesterfield, Scunthorpe and North Yorkshire, as well as churches in Doncaster itself.

“You’re here because you’ve a heart to serve,” said Nigel Fawcett-Jones, leading the seminar. He was right. Participants were already active in foodbank, pregnancy counselling and street pastoring; they included a GP, a parish administrator, a teacher and a school governor.

The seminar is based around a series of teaching videos by Jack Munday, International Director of the Rapid Response Team. He invites participants to approach those caught in tragedy with gentleness and respect, with a listening ear and a compassionate heart.

Nigel, who leads the Rapid Response team in the UK, is himself a traffic policeman, patrolling the M1 and M62. He also serves as a Family Liaison Officer, delivering death notifications, and supporting people through identification and the coroner’s inquest. The role has provided him with a wealth of stories about responding well to human tragedy.

He facilitates in a relaxed manner and fields with ease the ‘obstructive and provocative comments’ which he invites participants to make. Joining him to give an even wider perspective was Ian Macleod, head of UK Disaster Relief, who has led many deployments in Britain and overseas.

A chaplain engages in the street after the Brussels bomb attack
Ian responded to one significant question about whether the Rapid Response Team follows up people it encounters during disasters. He cited the case of a Syrian man he had met in Brussels after the bomb attack there, who accepted Jesus into his life. Ian subsequently posted him a Bible from the UK, and linked him to a local church. “It’s a Holy Spirit thing, and then there is a process of care and diligence,” he said.

Nigel began his journey towards leading the UK Rapid Response Team in 2001. He was praying in the aftermath of 9/11 and felt God calling him as a Christian policeman to respond. Flying to New York, he worked for ten days alongside American firefighters and police officers, spending many hours in prayer with paramedics and members of the National Guard.

At the end of a trip, during an attempted tourist interlude, he discovered more of the spiritual side of his calling. Walking through a park towards the Staten Island Ferry, he crossed paths with an Afro-American man who asked him directions. Nigel ended up leading the man to Christ as they sailed past the Statue of Liberty. “By no means do I count myself an evangelist,” he commented. “But God can use a willing heart.”

Nigel shared a story from his police experience to illustrate that many people at a disaster scene are already grappling with an earlier trauma. Deployed to West Cumbria after the 2010 rampage by Derrick Bird, he came across a lady crying in a car park. It turned out that her son was a police officer who was washed away from a bridge during the Cumbria floods, and she was still grieving. “You think you’re dealing with one thing,” commented Nigel, “but the big event may have happened earlier.”

Nigel has learned in breaking bad news to people that they first want to know what happened, and then why. “I tell people that I can answer the what, but I can’t give them an answer to the why. Rather, we have to move them through to the ‘who’. Who can guide them through? We know a Saviour who can take them on a different journey.”

Throughout the day, he recounted how the Holy Spirit had given him opportunities without him seeking to be opportunistic – opportunities to pray, to comfort, to counsel, to speak as if he were a chaplain, even though he was in the uniform of a police officer.

“We all know people in our own church, our own family, our own community who are hurting,” he added.

Ian Macleod gave an example of how Sharing Hope in Crisis training had changed the way he responds in day-to-day life. “I saw someone in Morrisons who had just split up with their spouse,” he said. “Previously I might have gone down another aisle, but this training has made me intentional. I didn’t know what to say, but I engaged anyway.”

For information about future Sharing Hope in Crisis seminars, please follow this link. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritans Purse are willing to provide these seminars free of charge in churches which share their vision and would like to partner in their work. In the first instance please contact Ian Macleod on

Watch Chris McCarthy, vicar at St James, describe how Sharing Hope in Crisis is helping his church to reach out to asylum-seekers: