Intensive-care unit nurse Jean Zepeda wanted to go home, but God wouldn’t let her. God, I’m tired, she thought. It’s been a long 12 hours. But the feeling persisted: she should go back to visit a patient she had already seen.
Jean Zepeda, Spiritual Ambassador
Zepeda isn’t only a nurse; she also bears the title spiritual ambassador. She returned to the patient and said, “I came back because something told me I couldn’t leave tonight without speaking to you again. I know the future seems uncertain, and the diagnosis you received is scary. But there is Someone who’s able to calm my fears and bring me hope. May I tell you about my friend?”
As Jean said those words, emotions bottled up inside her patient exploded. Through her sobs Jean heard her say, “I’m scared. Will you help me? Will you tell me about your friend? I’m scared to die.”
Holding her patient’s hand, Jean told her about Jesus and His love for her, about His sacrifice on the cross and the gift of eternal life. Her patient wanted to know more.
“I told her about heaven,” Jean said, “and a day when there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears, and no more fear. I prayed with her and watched her face transform from utter despair to complete peace.”
When Jean returned home that evening, she too had a feeling of peace wash over her. Despite her exhaustion, she was grateful to have listened to God’s voice. She felt blessed that she was able to provide hope to a patient in need.
When she returned to work, Jean learned that her patient hadn’t survived. “I prayed that she found comfort in our conversation about Christ’s love,” Jean said. “I can’t put into words what a privilege it is to work for an organization that not only allows me the opportunity to pray and share my faith, but encourages me, as a spiritual ambassador, to live it out. This brings me to life. Having the opportunity to touch lives not only reconnects me to my purpose—it is the very reason I became a nurse.”
Jean’s story represents the heart behind each of Adventist Health System’s (AHS) 3,000 spiritual ambassadors who stand united in their purpose of e
xtending the healing ministry of Christ. The value of their work transcends numbers, and their impact is felt for years. They are foot soldiers, actively living out the mission to spread God’s love and guide everyone toward wholeness.
This program allows team members to do more than treat the body; they are empowered to treat the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. In so doing, they not only improve the lives of those they serve—they better themselves and strengthen their connection with God.
So how is love measured? How do you measure purpose? How is the impact of such an experience, or the countless others that occur every day in our hospitals, quantified?
Sometimes we measure love through stories shared, relationships built, or imprints left on people’s lives. Other times we may be blessed with numbers that affirm the impact of the work done each and every day inside our facilities.
From the stories we hear, we know that spiritual ambassadors fuel mission and employee engagement, but we struggled to identify a tool that would enable us to quantify the impact of the program.
One leader suggested expanding our existing partnership with the Gallup organization to develop a stratified Gallup report for spiritual ambassadors that might show how this group of employees compare to others within the organization.
A lot of science goes into measuring engagement. The Gallup organization works with hundreds of organizations around the world to measure engagement levels among employees. They use a survey tool containing 12 core questions that have been scientifically proven to accurately reflect satisfaction and engagement. Each question is presented on a scale of one to five, with five being extremely satisfied, indicating that employees believe their organization offers that component 100 percent of the time. Responses are aggregated across the workforce, and an average rating, known as the Gallup GrandMean, is established.
In 2015 we began by getting a report for one of our flagship campuses, Florida Hospital Orlando. The results showed spiritual ambassadors as a best practice employee group, with a GrandMean of 4.59 out of 5, and a Gallup health-care percentile of 83 out of 100
. The health-care percentile is a ranking among all the health-care organizations Gallup surveys each year.
We expanded the scope of our measurement in 2016 and requested a stratified Gallup report for spiritual ambassadors to include 10 Adventist Health System hospitals within central Florida and our Adventist university. The spiritual ambassadors’ data was measured and compared, not only to the other employees within their own hospitals, but also to all Adventist Health System employees as a whole.
The numbers again showed spiritual ambassadors as a best practice group on the eighty-sixth percentile of Gallup’s health-care percentile ranking, with a GrandMean of 4.64.
But perhaps most meaningful was the GrandMean assigned to specific areas of mission and purpose: it ranked spiritual ambassadors at 4.82, on the eighty-ninth percentile.
These numbers indicate that employees in the spiritual ambassador program within Adventist Health System are more engaged compared to the rest of their team because mission gives them purpose. More engaged employees provide better care, inspire their coworkers and patients, and actively strive to exceed the needs of others. They connect at a heart level that brings meaning to their work and reminds them that whatever position they hold within the organization—whether in nutritional services, nursing, medicine, or administration, etc.—they make a difference every day. Being spiritual ambassadors allows them to be God’s hands, unites them in purpose, and gives them a solid platform for impacting lives now and for eternity.
“Mission plays a pivotal role in the engagement of our employees,” says Robyn Edgerton, director of mission strategy for AHS, “and spiritual ambassadors are a multiplier of that mission throughout the organization in an organic way. They ensure that we are truly providing whole-person care.”
For many the mission of extending the healing ministry of Christ drew them to the organization. It allows those called to connect to something larger than themselves, to be part of something more.
One spiritual ambassador shared, “I have worked at another health-care institution as a nurse leader for nearly 20 years. But when I heard about spiritual ambassadors from a friend, I resigned and applied for a job with AHS. I can’t tell you what this means to me to now work for an organization where I can share my faith, pray, and encourage my patients and coworkers.”
The spiritual ambassador program is not limited to the walls of one of our facilities. Its impact can be felt within the communities we serve, even worldwide. From providing 69,000 meals to children in Haiti, to the nurse who, instead of going home at the end of her shift, stayed and prayed all night with a patient who needed support. This is the work of spiritual ambassadors.
These are individuals called to do God’s work, whether that means holding someone’s hand or writing handwritten notes of encouragement to first responders and those affected by the nation’s largest mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. They filled 5,000 gallon bags full of food and water after the tragedy affected so many.
How do you measure the time and love spent spreading God’s love, praying with families who need support, and giving back to those who need it most?
It may be seen in the smile of a little girl who received her first meal in days; or the first responder who is inspired by words that keep him going amid tragedy.
Some stories may never be heard or told. But the impact of our caregivers—spiritual ambassadors and chaplains—is constantly extending Christ’s ministry throughout our hospitals. Our community is being felt, noticed, and accounted for by God in ways we may never know, because, according to Orlando Jay Perez, Adventist Health System vice president for institutional ministries: “Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through channels of love for the glory of God.”
Yes, numbers count. Yes, statistics show in part what’s been accomplished. But the impact Christ makes through each one of us—for one soul, one life, one family, or for multitudes—whether it can be measured or not, may be seen only in the light of eternity, when Jesus will say, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ . . . ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ ” (Matt. 25:35-40).
When we serve as Christ served, when we love as Christ loved, lives are transformed. That is measurement enough.
Sperantza Adriana Pasos coordinates the Spiritual Ambassadors program for mission integration and culture at Florida Hospital.