Ralph A. Rebandt II
On one of my first days as a police chaplain, I walked into the police department and a detective asked me, “Chaplain, do you believe in hell?” That loaded question was the beginning of a two-year, once-a-month lunch session with this man, an avowed agnostic.
We discussed why Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to die for human beings. For two years, I answered question after question. After a while, he began to ask the same questions over again, so I told him, “The issue here isn’t that you haven’t had your questions answered. It’s that you don’t really want to accept the answers. I’m going to pray that the Lord will bring something into your life that will break your hard heart and show you your need for Jesus.” (Later, he told me that he wanted to pull out his gun and have me meet my Maker right then.)
Several months later, on Good Friday, I received a phone call from him. He said that nothing was going right for him—which he blamed on me and my prayers—and that he was ready to confess his sin and trust in Jesus as his Savior and Lord. He and his wife joined our church where they remained members until they retired and moved away. Just recently, he himself was ordained as a chaplain.
I have been a police chaplain for almost thirty years. I began while an OP church planter here in Farmington Hills, Michigan. I was looking for ways to help out in our community. The police chief saw my desire and offered me a position as a chaplain in the Farmington Hills Police Department. After that, one door after another seemed to open, first to chaplaincy at a neighboring city’s police department, then to the Southeastern Michigan Police Chiefs, and then as chaplain for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
Several years ago, I was discussing evangelism over lunch with a group of pastors. Some of the pastors expressed that they knew very few non-Christians, and one pastor said that he was not even sure he could name five! I realized then that I actually knew more non-Christians than Christians. Police chaplaincy has provided a unique platform for the gospel to a group who may not hear it otherwise.
Think about this: law enforcement officers do works of necessity on the Lord’s Day, which keeps them from being able to attend worship. On the day and afternoon shifts, most officers work at least two Sundays per month. Midnight officers rarely attend worship anywhere.
Police officers are some of the most hardworking, selfless individuals you will ever meet. They get up in the morning unsure if they will return to their families after their shift, and they do that day in and day out. Especially in our current environment, they are often disrespected and quite often unappreciated. Statistics show that they have high divorce rates. The stress of job and home can be overwhelming. The field is white unto harvest.
Chaplaincy also allows our church to have a presence in the community. For the past eleven years, Oakland Hills OPC has sponsored a Law Enforcement Appreciation Sunday on the first Sunday in May, in coordination with National Law Enforcement Appreciation Week. Officers from the surrounding communities are invited to a baked goods reception prior to our morning worship. We raise money for an officer who is in a particular financial need—the candidates usually have a medical condition that has prohibited them from their work. Donations are received from our own congregation, from police department benevolent associations, and from command and officer associations on the local, state, and national level. The average final gift to the officer (or officer’s family) has been anywhere from six to fourteen thousand dollars.
Opportunities abound locally for chaplains to connect to the law enforcement community through hosting Bible studies, offering video series like The Truth Project, accompanying on ride-alongs, officiating marriages, or offering church parking lots to local police for internet access or donut breaks. Eternal friendships begin and are built from these opportunities.
After one Law Enforcement Appreciation Sunday, an officer gave me his phone number and asked me to do a “ride-along” with him. I rode with him weekly for several months, sharing the gospel. He professed faith in Christ and began attending worship. On a subsequent ride-along, he shared with me that he was struggling with forgiveness and thought he could never forgive his wife for what she had done to him. They had been divorced for some time, but, because of the children, had stayed in communication. I asked him to pull over, opened my Bible to Matthew 18, and asked him to read about forgiveness. I then told him that, if he couldn’t forgive his wife, I wasn’t sure he understood God’s forgiveness.
Two weeks later, he called me and asked if I could come over to his house. He said he would explain when I got there. I arrived and was introduced to his ex-wife. She was just as surprised to be introduced to me as I was to her. The officer explained that he wanted to forgive his wife for leaving him and that he wanted to re-marry her. She began to cry but explained that she couldn’t because she had become a Christian, and since he was not, she didn’t think it was right to marry him. They then began to share with each other what the Lord had done individually in their lives. They forgave each other, and I performed a marriage that day! There were tears of joy that afternoon.
Police chaplaincy is one of the most rewarding things I do as a pastor. As chaplain for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, I present a short devotional at monthly meetings before offering a prayer (and always in Jesus’s name). In addition, for the past twenty-five years, I have been asked to join the chiefs from all over Michigan at their summer training conference, and to lead a prayer breakfast. In February 2018, I was able to present at the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police winter conference a course on principles of leadership from the Bible. In June 2020, I will present in a plenary session “In God We Trust,” expanding on the phrase’s history, theology, morality, and legality. (On my bucket list is having “In God We Trust” on every police car in Michigan.)
Many of the situations a chaplain faces are emotionally overwhelming. We assist spiritually in tough situations, from sudden infant death syndrome to suicide. However, in our weakness, God’s strength is made perfect.
Every pastor and every chaplain needs support and encouragement. I’ve been blessed with a lovely and supportive wife. She writes, designs, and brainstorms ideas with me, hosts the conference prayer breakfasts, and makes everyone feel welcome. In addition, our congregation at Oakland Hills has caught the vision of police chaplaincy. They are energetic, enthusiastic, and evangelistic, and the ways in which they’ve contributed to this ministry are astounding. God sees what they do; God knows. My prayer is that God will continue to use this ministry to the praise of his glory.
The author is pastor of Oakland Hills Community Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan. New Horizons, February 2020.