Springboro police chief serves as chaplain during hurricane recovery

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Springboro police chief serves as chaplain during hurricane recovery

For two weeks, Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff offered a sympathetic ear and other assistance to first responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

More than 80 people died and countless injuries reported as Harvey flooded and leveled coastal and inland communities after making landfall with winds of 130 mph at Rockport, Texas, on Aug. 25.

Over the next five days, the storm flooded hundreds of thousands of homes, leaving more than 30,000 people homeless and prompting more than 17,000 rescues.

In Rockport, Kruithoff and another chaplain with law enforcement experience “debriefed” police, fire, ambulance and dispatch workers scrambling to help all the victims.

“We were really able to help a lot of people process the storm,” Kruithoff said.

“Dispatchers were terribly affected,” he recalled, sitting in the conference room at city hall. “They can’t do anything if they don’t have anyone to dispatch.”

Kruithoff was among 60 Rapid Response Chaplains sent to the disaster by Billy Graham Ministries.

The program developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and since then, the chaplains have used their special training to assist in more than 260 crises around the world.

They bring to bear “the compassion of Jesus Christ” and “the ability to listen,” said Scott Holmquist of the North Carolina-based ministries.

“They are in the mix,” Holmquist added, gauging where those they are helping are in processing “grief due to loss.”

Kruithoff was on the ground amid the catastrophe from Aug. 29 to Sept. 10.

It was his second deployment, after supporting workers with Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid founded by Franklin Graham in recovery efforts after floods in Ripley County, Miss.

Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, now heads the organization’s web of faith-based programs.

Kruithoff estimated he prayed with 25 to 50 workers and victims a day, in addition to engaging individuals in talks designed to allow them to work through traumatic stress that comes with experiencing such a disaster.

“We don’t come in and hit them with a Bible over the head,” he said. “We let them tell their story.”

The cathartic process typically takes five to nine such talks, Kruithoff said.

“We want people to remember the incident, but not relive the incident,” he said.

In addition, chaplains encourage those traumatized to find several things they liked before the storm, maybe golf or going for a walk, but to move on, rather than expect to return to life as before the storm.

“There’s a new reality,” he said, adding the chaplains also encourage healthy habits, including eating and drinking enough, and help work through sleep problems.

With permission, the chaplains end sessions with a prayer.

Kruithoff and Holmquist acknowledged the program offers a chance to rededicate lives to Christ.

“We will never take advantage of people,” Holmquist said. “We will use the circumstance to meet them at their place of need.”

During his Texas work, Kruithoff listened to firefighters recalling walls of their station move six to eight inches.

“They had to tie their bay doors to their fire trucks so they didn’t blow out,” he said.

Kruithoff rented a car and began driving to Houston after evacuation centers were opened there.

“I had to take some detours because of flooded roads,” he said.

At one point, he disregarded GPS directions to turn down a gravel road between Corpus Christi and Houston.

Luckily, he soon came upon a trucker who he followed “until we got to a state highway.”

In Houston, Kruithoff presented a Bible to Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and coordinated the “faith response” to the police department and sheriff’s office.

During line-ups at shift openings, Kruithoff would offer a prayer for officers about to go out onto the storm-ravaged streets.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen police, regardless of their spiritual faith, turning down a prayer going into a shift,” he said.

Kruithoff is part of a new group of chaplains with law-enforcement experience in the program.

When asked about the apparent contrast between police and religious work, Kruithoff said, “There were only two things I was going to be in my life, a minister or a policeman.”

Still, he acknowledged the two frames of reference sometimes conflict, placing obstacles in the way of his “faith walk.”

As Kruithoff worked in Houston, Springboro officials expressed their support and gratitude during a Sept. 7 city council meeting.

“We commend him, we thank him and we’ve been communicating with him so that he stays safe,” City Manager Christine Thompson said.

Mayor John Agenbroad added, “That’s what America is all about, helping out when somebody’s down.”

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