Every Monday morning new employees of Florida Hospital go through an orientation process. They learn about the hospital and its facilities and services. They learn about expected procedures and protocol. They learn what makes Florida Hospital a health-care leader in the region, and in the midst of it all, they receive a special invitation.
This invitation, should they choose to accept it, puts a new employee in a unique position that carries with it the potential to change their lives, and, in the process, transforms the culture of Florida Hospital’s entire operation. These new employees are invited to live mission. They are invited to become spiritual ambassadors.
What’s in a Name?
“The origin of the idea was spawned [10 years ago] from a short visit from a frontline RN staff member whose comment caused an uneasiness of thought that wouldn’t go away,” says Connie Hamilton, cofounder of Florida Hospital’s Spiritual Ambassador program. “He simply said, ‘We are a faith-based hospital whose mission is to extend the healing ministry of Christ, and I don’t think that we in nursing are doing all that we could in incorporating the mission into our patient care and in our interactions with each other.’ I had just been promoted to senior vice president for patient care services, and the visit by this RN was a welcome nudging to consider how we could become better in our serving.”
The idea progressed to a brainstorming discussion among leaders and staff, which then grew to become an actual movement throughout Florida Hospital’s campuses and affiliated operations. “The work took on a life of its own as individuals embraced the openness to reach out in service to touch the lives of others as Jesus did,” adds Hamilton. In various hospital departments Florida Hospital employees developed multifaceted ways to bring healing and hope, in a spiritual sense, to coworkers and patients alike through simple acts of service.
Simply put, spiritual ambassadors, who work closely with Florida Hospital chaplains, are men and women from all echelons of work throughout the organization. They can be nurses, physicians, administrators, environmental services personnel, etc. “Based on Christ’s method of service, the movement follows the Master’s method of true success: ‘The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me,” ’ ”* says Sperantza Adriana Pasos, program coordinator. It can also best be described as a two-way outreach. “My calling as a spiritual ambassador is to nurture those around me,” she adds. “If we are called to give the best care to our patients, but we don’t take care of our team, guess what? Our patients know it. If there is dissension within our teams and not unity, they will sense that. But if our team is nurtured, energized, empowered, and inspired because we recognize that what we do here not only is a job but goes beyond that, it motivates us to say, ‘Wow! What I do is important and what I do makes a difference, because I’m not just doing it for another human being—I’m doing it for God.’ ”
Purpose in a Workday
At the core of a spiritual ambassador’s workday is a deep desire to be of service—to patients, to coworkers, to supervisors, and, most important, to God. And as a faith-based organization, Florida Hospital exists to extend the healing ministry of Christ. “Our mission is the DNA of our culture, and the ministry of spiritual ambassadors is core to helping get that mission across in every area of our hospital on a daily basis,” says Orlando Jay Perez, vice president for mission and ministry.
So how does that endeavor trickle down through every facet of a common workday? There are three basic common needs the movement identifies as driving the soul of its mission. It is to experience and help others experience trust, belonging, and hope. Spiritual ambassadors then see themselves as “catalysts for change.” In each pocket of the hospital the ideals of this movement translate into such practical efforts as creating, according to its orientation materials, “a peaceful, thriving work environment, through creating authentic relationships, and through prayer and unit-anchored activities.” This focus—this purpose—then gives merit to pretty much everything that goes on throughout Florida Hospital’s entire operation, and to everyone who is involved in it.
When Pasos first came on board four years ago, there were 850 spiritual ambassadors out of 16,000 employees working throughout the eight campuses of Florida Hospital. The goal then was to increase the number of spiritual ambassadors to the 10 percent mark. Today with 17,000 employees, the mark has been hit, with 1,700 spiritual ambassadors currently working in various capacities throughout this leading central Florida health-care network.
Not Just for Adventists
Faith plays a huge role in what spiritual ambassadors do on a daily basis. But Florida Hospital employees are not all Christians, let alone Adventists. Yet this movement is wide open to anyone who feels the need to be a part of it. “Christ’s mission is an extremely inclusive mission,” says Pasos. “So whether you are a Christian, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, or don’t believe in God, we want you to know that you will be embraced.”
Spiritual ambassadors do not try to force religion on anyone. “My job is to be a catalyst for nurture, a catalyst for hope, and an instrument in God’s hand that says: ‘You have value, you have worth, and you belong to the family of God,’ ” adds Pasos. She relates the story of a woman who called her office one day to ask if she needed to be an Adventist in order to serve as a spiritual ambassador. Pasos welcomed her interest wholeheartedly, and the woman was touched, expressing her feelings that God had called her to live mission, even if her belief system was different.
How would a nonbeliever then live out mission in an Adventist setting? Pasos believes that the goal can be strongly accomplished when individuals realize the power and Christlike nature of one simple act of kindness, of just meeting the need. It’s bringing hope to those we serve and taking care of humanity, just like Jesus did,” she says. “That goes beyond any label we may place on ourselves. It is an issue of the heart.”
On any given day Florida Hospital sees its share of tragedy and triumph. And it is in those moments that spiritual ambassadors are especially effective. For example, for the mother who enters the hospital to deliver a baby but leaves without taking that baby home—for whatever reason—spiritual ambassadors step in to minister in ways such as praying with the mother or giving her a teddy bear so that she leaves with something tangible that tells her she is cared for. “Being a spiritual ambassador and walking the walk with Christ is an awesome feeling,” says hospital employee Angel Smith. “I was with a patient for three days, and I mentioned the Lord several times. I used the ‘bus driver’ analogy, and my patient said, ‘You know what? We are truly passengers on the bus, and we have to let God be the bus driver.’ He proclaimed that God had put me in his life and that I was truly an angel God had sent to take care of him. My patient passed that day for unknown reasons, but it felt awesome to be able to extend my passion for God to his family in their time of need.”
Lashia Thomas is a physical therapist assistant at Florida Hospital Orlando. “Some patients see my spiritual ambassador logo on my badge, and they know they can open up to me,” she says. “I have seen the spiritual ambassador ministry touch the lives of employees, patients, and those who may never set foot inside these four walls. It is a privilege to be a part of this group and extend the healing ministry of Christ.”
The ways in which spiritual ambassadors minister to patients and employees alike are as varied as each individual participant. As an organization, the movement regularly comes together to minister to needs of the community as well. When Pasos learned of the need of a local school to provide healthful meals for its children, spiritual ambassadors collected food during a 15-day period through partnering with the Blessings in a Backpack program. This resulted in a truckload of supplies amounting to $10,000 worth of food for 250 children—essentially 2,400 meals. Families of these children were also on the receiving end of care packages that allowed them to provide nourishing meals at home—something many of them had not been able to do.
Prayer requests that are filled out and left in strategic collection areas throughout the various Florida Hospital campuses are gathered and shared with the spiritual ambassadors team and prayed for. At special times throughout the year these requests are then burned in a symbolic prayer ceremony with spiritual ambassadors, patients, friends, and other employees present. The movement also supports military personnel and their families and feeds displaced families living in a local Orlando-area motel, among many other service-oriented activities. “Spiritual ambassadors are leading a culture of change as they intentionally focus to impact the patient experience by uniting and engaging their teams through prayer, projects, and community outreach,” adds Robyn Edgerton, administrative director of mission development.
There are absolutely no mandates to the ways that spiritual ambassadors live mission during a given workday, though there are standards that must be upheld. “It’s a very simple thing,” says Pasos. “Our mission and our action plan are based on the standards of Christ’s ministry [building] trust, belonging, and hope.” Pasos relates the story of a nurse who cares for patients in isolation and must always wear a mask. However, patients can never see that she is smiling at them because of it. So she decided to draw a smiley face on that mask to bring some semblance of happiness to her patients in difficult moments.
“I try to always keep my word,” said another nurse. “That is my standard to which I hold myself accountable.” A patient had asked for a cup of ice, and in the busyness of the day she forgot to bring it, remembering only on her drive home. So she immediately called her unit and asked to speak with the patient and apologized. He had forgotten the request himself, but said, “You don’t know what it means to me that you would take the time. It makes me feel so special.”
It’s the simple things that make all the difference.
“Simply walking for Jesus is kind of how it is,” says Sherri Grace, who works alongside Pasos in the Spiritual Ambassador coordination office. It’s like literally walking in His footsteps. In any day we may have an agenda, but He directs us to the one person or two people, or to a room, or to a patient or to an employee or an administrator. It’s humbling. It’s an incredible gift. And it teaches us to be grateful for everything we have.”
This movement is transforming the culture of Florida Hospital by exemplifying what it means to live the mission of Christ. “Spiritual ambassadors bring life to our organization, helping us breathe God’s Spirit and energize every employee to achieve our mission of extending the healing ministry of Christ,” says Greg Ellis, administrative director of pastoral care.
It doesn’t have to be big or terribly complicated, but each act of service accomplishes incredible things for those who need it most, when they need it most. And that is exactly how Christ works for us. “We come together under the power of the only One who gives us the power to do this, and empowered by His Holy Spirit, we can impact the world,” says Pasos. “We can leave imprints on people’s hearts and lives that will be for eternity.”
* See Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 143.
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review and editor of KidsView. This article was published November 15, 2012.