by Greg Javaux
I have the privilege of serving patients, their families, and the staff at CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri. My position is a full-time chaplain from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., seven nights every two weeks. CoxHealth has three hospitals in Springfield: Cox South, the main campus, has 563 beds, including a women’s and children’s hospital, a neuroscience center, and a Level 1 center treating trauma, stroke, and STEMI (the most deadly type of heart attack). Cox North is a psychiatric hospital with 73 beds. And Meyer Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital has 85 beds. One chaplain covers all three of these hospitals each night. The kinds of ministries I am called up to deliver are many and varied.
The chaplain carries a pager so he can be called to any place on any campus at any time. The calls might be for a patient who can’t sleep so wants to talk with a chaplain, a patient facing surgery or a difficult decision, a family facing a loved one’s death, a patient wanting to fill out an advance directive for health care, or a patient in the emergency department who has suffered a trauma, STEMI, or stroke.
Recently I received a call for a patient whose breathing was declining. When I arrived, he had an oxygen mask on. The visit was challenging, but what I heard was “Sit down and stay with me.” Job’s words came to mind: “Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!” (Job 13:5, ESV). The patient’s wife arrived about an hour later, and I learned that the patient’s brother-in-law is a Baptist pastor and that the patient gets anxious when alone. Both the patient and wife thanked me for my presence and asked me to pray for them.
Another night I was asked to visit a patient who was upset. The patient shared that he had had a nightmare about a place of great torment, and he knew he was headed there if he didn’t get right with God. The patient had gone to Vacation Bible School as a child and remembered John 3:16. I had the privilege of helping him understand what that verse meant and praying with him to express his faith in Christ and desire to be saved.
The stories could go on about caring for people from all walks of life and from differing places in their spiritual journeys. The list of responses and reactions I receive as a chaplain is fairly lengthy too, and they remind me that I represent Christ.
The night shift affords me good times to visit with hospital staff and really develop relationships with them. It seems that every week a staff member shares personal trials and accepts my offer to pray with him or her. That trial might be a personal relationship or health challenge, a family member who is sick or has died, a concern over a child, a financial crisis, or some other difficulty. Some of the staff members have referred to me as their pastor at work. It is also a joy when they ask me to pray for their opportunities. Currently I am praying for four nurses who will be taking medical missions trips this year. One nurse recently shared about his cousin who had just moved to Iraq to be a missionary teaching English.
Serving in a secular workplace does present challenges. I must always be aware of and sensitive to how much the other person is willing to talk about the Lord. At times I have served people who are engaged in ungodly, unbiblical choices, but I remember that Christ came to save sinners and was known as a friend of sinners. And sometimes patients will request a representative of their own faith tradition. We keep a list of churches and faith groups in the Springfield area upon whom we can call on these occasions. We call those leaders when patients request services that I am unable to perform because they are outside my faith tradition. But I have found that good working relationships can lead to opportunities for redemptive relationships with leaders and representatives of other faith groups.
Whether I am serving patients, their families, or staff members, it is a privilege to minister to people in their time of greatest need.
Greg Javaux is an institutional chaplain with Regular Baptist Chaplaincy and is a member of Calvary Baptist Church, Quincy, Ill.