During our recent Missions Focus Speed-Date-a-Missionary, we had the chance to hear from Rick Christopherson who serves the first responders in our local community as a chaplain with the Sheriff’s Department, Larimer County SWAT team, and more recently the Poudre Fire Authority.
Rick and Lisa Christopherson are familiar faces here at Timberline Church. Their family moved to Fort Collins in 1997 and by 2000, Rick was on staff as a youth pastor before later transitioning to an administrative and security role. Lisa has helped in various capacities around Timberline including in Women’s Ministries and continues to serve as a vital part of the U COUNT Campaign. In 2009, Rick began working with police officers in Fort Collins as a volunteer. This path led to becoming a more official Sheriff’s Chaplain role in 2013 and the eventual tug-of-war between two dreams as ministry inside the walls of Timberline Church and his increased roles in the community through a regional SWAT team competed for his time. Rick eventually left Timberline Church and founded the Rocky Mountain Chaplain Corps in order to serve those who serve others.
Police officers see the worst things in our community and it can be hard to block out those memories. Not to mention, our law enforcement personnel are lied to every day. While on the job, they are even sometimes required to use physical tactics in order to resolve conflict. At the end of the day, they go home to families who do not understand their burden and situations where completely different conflict resolution strategies are required. As a result, family and marital relationships can suffer.
However, relationships are also a key part of their emotional healing since Chaplain Rick is there to listen. He has built a solid foundation with local law enforcement officers by attending regular trainings and riding along during their everyday operations. By being present as a part of the team for years, Rick is trusted by the first responders whenever a critical incident occurs.
Because he knows firsthand what the officers face, Chaplain Rick is able to listen during debriefs, offer advice, and even compassionately help with other pastoral duties including death notifications or comforting family members at the scene. In addition to serving three different agencies, Rick also does security consultations for non-profit organizations and helps educate law enforcement regarding human trafficking issues and resources.
Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes with excerpts from Rick’s blog about an incident that occurred last year:
“I was getting ready for bed on that night when, before I swung my feet under the covers, the pager beeps the priority alert with the message to respond immediately for a hostage situation. This causes an automatic adrenaline shot. I was once tired but now I am good to go. This particular call out is only 2½ miles from my house. I grab the last thing I wore and rush to the scene.
I have a simple job as a SWAT chaplain. Just be available. I watch and listen intently to monitor and care for a group of individuals that are from all different backgrounds and places in life. Some are married, some have kids. Some are democrats and others republican. Men and women in their 40’s and others in mid-thirties and twenties. Different religious beliefs or no beliefs at all. Some with a really good sense of humor and some who are more serious. A few of these people have Southern accents while others from out East. All of them are stubborn and opinionated and have no issues convincing each other they are right to prove a point. Tall, short, fit or round (but still fit), all of them… Operator, Scout, Negotiator, Medic, Patrol, Investigator, Commander and Team Leader, show up with one priority only……. Save the life of the hostage. Individuals setting all individual issues aside and operating as 1 team. Well trained and practiced, these men and women work like a machine to produce a lifesaving unit. This team stands ready to run into danger to do one thing…. Save the hostage. Priority of life is hostage over themselves.
Back to the story… SWAT operators show up on scene and relieve the fearless patrol deputies in the mobile home. I’m ferrying tools and equipment up to them and listening intently over the radio. It was clear… this call out wasn’t typical of most call outs. This call went from bad to worse. My heart races as I hear over the radio the negotiators saying, “He’s trying to blow up the trailer.” Both commander and team leader of like-minded priority decide they can’t wait. Waiting could kill the hostage. The team plows through a barricade of debris and furniture and within seconds they are face to face with a suspect hell bent on destruction and taking lives.
“Shots Fired!” rings out over the radio a few seconds after I heard the actual shots fired. I’m only 50 yards away listening to this on the radio and my emotions, while in check, are still ranging from fear of loss of life of this hostage and the fear that my friends will be killed in a massive explosion. I leave the command van and run towards the mobile home so I can see my friends and make sure they are ok. I arrive in time to see the hostage being placed in the ambulance and it hit me like a ton of bricks… The extreme pride that I’m associated with these operators. Men with families and friends who are willing to sacrifice their very lives for a stranger in need.
“The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion….” Proverbs 28:1 and “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:3
Biblical words played out in the reality of our times. The media and some in our society would lump cops into the stereotype defined by a few bad actors, when in reality the guardians of our communities would prioritize these very same people and all people in our communities as: hostage – innocent – then themselves. Without this priority our communities would be plunged into chaos.
I am proud of my team. I am in awe of all law enforcement who set an example and are willing to give it all for the sake of their community and team.”
You can find out more about Rick’s ministry at www.RockyMountainChaplain.org.