February 19, 2016

Adventist Students Sign Up to Befriend U.S. Police

, Southern Adventist University, with Adventist Review staff

Eleven students from Southern Adventist University are embarking on an unique kind of friendship evangelism: providing encouragement and support to police officers as they respond to emergency calls.

The Seventh-day Adventist-owned university is the first school to participate in a chaplain internship program with police in Chattanooga, Tennessee, located about a 30-minute drive from its Collegedale campus.

The 11 religion students who signed up for the inaugural program will perform a variety of duties, including reaching out to people affected by domestic violence at Chattanooga’s Family Justice Center, an organization that recently began a partnership with social work graduate students at the university.

Interns also will conduct chapel services at the police department. But most significantly, they will participate in a ride-a-long program as police officers respond to calls, an opportunity that gives them a chance to minister both to officers and crime victims.

“At first it surprised me that one of our primary tasks would be ministering to police officers, but it makes sense,” said John Felts, a junior theology major. “They see a lot of darkness out there in order to keep us safe, and consequently they carry a heavy burden.”

Students have the option of taking the internship as part of a practicum for academic credit, or volunteering as a service-learning activity, which is required of all students before graduation.

During an orientation meeting a few days ago, the 11 students met volunteer police chaplains and took a short tour of the facility where they are now based. The police chief underscored the importance of having officers on his team who are emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy. In an intense career where it is easy to become cynical and emotionally depleted, the uplifting presence of chaplains is critical, he said.

While many of the potential responsibilities may appear daunting for students, their primary task is simple: friendship evangelism, said Greg King, dean of the university’s School of Religion. This “ministry of presence” allows them to get to know the policemen, gain an understanding of their responsibilities and challenges, and provide encouragement. If the officer is open to talking about spiritual needs, it could lead to a conversation about Jesus.

“We’re excited about this opportunity not only for our students to receive training, but also for our campus to have a chance to minister to the surrounding area,” King said. “We want to be a point of light going beyond Collegedale, finding meaningful ways to engage with the broader Chattanooga community and communicate the presence of Christ.”