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God's messengers in hospitals and schools

Chaplains share why they want to be there for patients and students

Rochelle Wainwright loves being able to give out Bibles

Rochelle Wainwright likes to think of herself as one of the invisible people. As a hospital chaplain, she says her job is to point away from herself and towards God.

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In her two days a week at the Children’s Hospital Westmead and three days at Allowah Presbyterian Hospital, in Sydney, she finds that she can’t always be there for families that need her, but she knows that God can.

“I can underline the passages so that in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep they can hold on to that psalm and they can find comfort in their anxiety … I can’t be there in the middle of the night, but God can.”

“I can’t have families putting their hope in me and my visit because I’m human and I can’t be there every day. My role is to point them to God, who will always be there.”

This week, the work of chaplains in two contrasting roles is being featured as part of Bible Society’s celebrations for its 201st anniversary.

Rochelle is grateful for the Bibles she receives from Bible Society because she relies on the power of God’s word to be effective in her chaplaincy. “My words are human; my words are imperfect. You’ve never seen how reading from a particular psalm to a mum will bring them to tears because they’re hearing from God. I’ve got my words, but God’s words are totally different. If a family can feel like God is speaking to them, God who created the world is speaking to them in their suffering, that is the best that we can bring to families – God and his word, not ourselves.”

Rochelle loves being able to give out the Bibles that Bible Society donates so that God’s voice can be with suffering families when she can’t. “I can underline the passages so that in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep they can hold on to that psalm and they can find comfort in their anxiety … I can’t be there in the middle of the night, but God can, and through the Bible they can hold on to his promises.”

From Westmead, she gives the example of a young single mum whose baby had just had surgery; Rochelle happened to have a little Bible with her that she could give away.

“She wasn’t connected with a church at the time, so I was able to point her to some key passages and pray with her and that was really important for her. As a young single mum, she was feeling really isolated and so my prayer is that after that maybe she did connect with a church.”

“Often they cannot change the outcome; however, they just want to know that God is with them.”

Rochelle believes that to be an effective chaplain she has to ensure she remains connected with God “because how can you bring him to people if you’re not walking with him well? You can’t,” she says.

“So as much as I’m reminding families of who God is, I need to remind myself every single day of who God is because I am just his servant. He is God; I am not God; he will work in their hearts; I cannot change their hearts – that’s not my job; my job is just to be there and to listen and to share.”

She always prays before she goes into a ward that God will direct her steps and guide her in every conversation. In one instance, knowing she was to meet a family whose child had just been diagnosed with cancer, she felt God was giving her a particular verse – Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

“I walked into the room and they were seeming a little bit cautious because they’d been through a lot and I mentioned that I had been praying for them before I came in, and that God had placed this verse on my heart. So I shared Joshua 1:9 with the family, at which point the father picked up his phone and said, ‘Do you know what? I had someone from my home town contact me to give me this exact verse today.’

“So for that family it was confirmation God was with them and that is what the families want. Often they cannot change the outcome; however, they just want to know that God is with them; and for that family that particular verse was of comfort.”

A former nurse, Rochelle says she went into hospital chaplaincy because she wanted to be able to sit with families and remind them to hold onto God in their suffering, without having to watch the clock.

At Allowah, a hospital for children with complex medical conditions or disabilities, she sees her role as “journeying” with the children, their families and the staff.

“Here at Allowah, it’s about engaging with kids and with parents. I like to grab any opportunity to have a chat with parents, because having a child with complex medical needs and disabilities is really hard,” she says.

“Being the chaplain at Allowah means that I get to be a person who asks, ‘How are you going?’

I have the opportunity to sit down and pray with parents if that’s what they’re wanting. It’s about knowing what the spiritual need is and being there for families in that.

“I have the great opportunity to journey with families – you get to build that relationship and rapport, and to be there for them in the different challenges they face in life generally but also with their child if their child becomes particularly unwell.”

The reality is that children at Allowah have life-limiting conditions, so a key aspect of her role is supporting parents and staff when a child dies.“Sadly in my first year at Allowah we had three children pass away, so it was important to support the parents and staff during this time of grief.”

She points out that it can come as a shock to staff who have nursed children for many years when they become really unwell because they forget the challenges the children have and see them as the beautiful, happy children that they usually are. “So it is important to support staff as they grieve and as they continue to love the kids that are still here because loving, knowing that you will possibly lose them one day, takes great courage.”

She loves working for Allowah because as a church hospital she is able to work with churches in the area to put on Kids Church three times a month.

“We want the children at Allowah to have the opportunity to be involved in Sunday school. It’s difficult for children in hospital to get out to a Sunday school, so at Allowah we want Sunday school to come to them. We are so very thankful for the link churches that give up their time to bring Sunday school to the kids.

“The challenge for children or anyone who has a complex medical condition is that they can be left out, or they can miss out on experiences that other people their age have. So our goal here at Allowah is to make sure that the kids, as much as they are able, are participating in activities that other kids their age get to do,” says Rochelle.

“So we like to give the children at Allowah the opportunity to participate in music, which they do with tambourines, drums or by having little bells on their wrists. You can see it in the children’s eyes and their smile that they love participating in music and it brings joy to their lives.”

Edwina Soh leads Bible study at Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney

Edwina Soh leads Bible study at Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney

Edwina Soh sees opportunities in schools

Edwina Soh leads Bible study at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Sydney. Edwina Soh turned her back on a high-flying IT career in banking to go into school chaplaincy because she could see the eternal worth of working in a mission field where many children do not know Jesus.

“I spent the first two years really putting Fuel out there as a group that was active and real with real students who weren’t quirky and wearing weird cardigans and sacrificing chickens … but are real people among your community who love people, love God, who want to serve God.”

Edwina says that while she was considering going back to work after having her first child, God remoulded her heart to build her identity in Jesus rather than in her work achievements.

Now working as part of a team of five chaplains at Presbyterian Ladies’ College in Sydney, Edwina finds the work attractive because there is so much to be done.

“There are a lot of kids who don’t know Jesus. What an opportunity! You have a captive audience – a lot of them don’t like being a captive audience – but you’ve got a God-given opportunity, so what am I going to do with it?” she says.

As well as teaching Christian studies and being the year 10 chaplain, Edwina has “rebooted” the school’s co-curricular Christian group for years 7-12, called Fuel. Over the past three years numbers have grown from fewer than ten to about 80, thanks to initiatives such as Grace Week when the girls prepare gifts to give out to the whole school.

“I spent the first two years really putting Fuel out there as a group that was active and real with real students who weren’t quirky and wearing weird cardigans and sacrificing chickens … but are real people among your community who love people, love God, who want to serve God.”

She is motivated by testimonies such as a girl who came to the group in Year 9 but wasn’t going to church. Edwina encouraged her to find a church and the student encouraged her non-Christian mother and brother to go to church too. She has now left school, but she and her mum are still going to church and the student is looking at starting a Christian group at the Conservatorium of Music.

“That’s my goal for them and my prayer for them; it’s about equipping them as human beings.”

“The things we did here really stretched her and encouraged her to take those steps forward. So … it’s about persevering and not underestimating what God’s going to do in the lives of individual girls … God will not waste any opportunity or any word.”

Edwina also runs a weekly year 12 devotion, where her focus is helping the students look beyond their all-consuming study lives to see the bigger picture in the journey of life.

“It’s learning how to have perspective for the rest of your life and it starts now at a critical moment like this – probably one of the biggest challenges you’ll get as a starting point in life,” she says.

“So it means gathering and taking time in God’s word, and to pray … and how do I share my life in a moment when it’s all about me? So it’s challenging them beyond just getting a good result and getting their assessment done, what kind of Christian are you going to be? What kind of person are you going to be?

“That’s my goal for them and my prayer for them; it’s about equipping them as human beings.”

“To be able to walk alongside students, I think, is a privilege and it’s not one I take lightly because this is eternal.”

Edwina has recently taken on the challenge of building a community beyond the school in partnership with Scot’s College, a boys’ school in Sydney.

They are launching a ministry for ex-students called Refuel, which will be led by ex-students and will meet once or twice a year.

“One of the concerns I have is a lot of our girls who come to the school aren’t from churched families or don’t go to youth group, so for them church is school – Fuel becomes their Christian input for the week,” says Edwina.

“So the big thing is when they leave PLC where do they go? How do they continue to pursue the questions they started with, with the faith they wanted to have?”

Edwina says she likes working in a girls’ school because girls are relationally driven and ministry is all about relationships.

“It’s about having the kind of Christian woman who loves you and treasures you and wants to walk alongside you, even if you’re broken and hurt. And I’ve been so broken in the past in personal things that I think it enhances what I do here.

“To be able to walk alongside students, I think, is a privilege and it’s not one I take lightly because this is eternal. Your purpose is to see these students in heaven and know that you have been part of their journey there.”

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