An Inclusive Ministry Opportunity

What is your definition of ministry? Is the only way you see someone as a minister is them standing behind a pulpit delivering a sermon? Maybe we sometimes get so caught up in images that we are unable to see the true picture. The picture Christ gives us of ministry is ". . . just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31), ". . . I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:27), and ". . . inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, My brethren (or maybe sisters) you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
When I first received my ministerial license, I was often asked, "When are you going to start running revivals?” It was difficult to make them understand that I would very seldom be standing behind a pulpit delivering a sermon; rather I wanted to be in a hospital room being one. What brought me to the point of being a hospital chaplain was a series of seemingly unrelated circumstances which I now know were being used by God to guide me toward what would become the most fulfilling ministry of my life. I had given my life to Jesus as the age of eight in a Florida youth camp. At the age of thirteen I knew that I would somehow be in the ministry. While at Lee College I met and married a minister. For the next 30 years I ministered alongside my husband, Dan. His calling was my calling. As he served as a pastor, youth director, evangelism director, and state overseer, I ministered alongside of him. Along the way God blessed us with two children. During those years, even when I had my own position, I was still part of him and my position was because of his position. I did whatever was necessary to minister to the people and help Dan., but there always stirred within me a feeling that there was a ministry just for me.
I once told someone, "I know what Dan wants me to do, and what the church wants me to do, I’m just not sure of what God wants me to do.” I knew my first commitment was the Lord, and my second was to my family, but somehow I began to feel there was something more for me to do. . God had given me a prophesy that He had a ministry just for me. I had written it down in my prayer journal. Various opportunities for personal ministry had opened up on several occasions, but they were only temporary. I felt like a mouse in a maze trying to find the right door that God was going to open
What brought me to that door was the combination of a personal family crises situation and walking through the valley of the shadow of death with my father. In July of 1996 as my father lay dying of cancer, I spent the final hours with him keeping his lungs suctioned out so that he could breathe. It was traumatic, but somehow I was able to stay calm. During a brief respite, I met two ladies out in the hall whose mother was also dying. They said that they couldn’t bear to watch her suffering, and so while they stood outside, she lay in that hospital room dying alone. The situation broke my heart. From that experience a seed was planted. No one should have to die alone. If I could be there for my father, I could be there for others. Just as I had known at the age of thirteen that I was to be in the ministry, I now knew that this was to be my ministry.
Beginning in January of 1997 and for the next four years, I balanced family life while obtaining a master’s degree at the Church of God Theological Seminary as part of my preparation to be a certified hospital chaplain. My final year I spent three months enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education at the Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga. Through CPE I was able to further define my ministry. Functioning as chaplain gave me the opportunity to share Christ through the Word, prayer, and more often the ministry of presence—just being there. When I first began, I wondered how male patients would respond to me compared to women. I discovered that for the most part there was no difference in how they accepted me. They saw me not just as a woman, but as a chaplain. In some cases they seemed more comfortable with me. There was no male pretence of having to be strong. The mothers and wives were glad to have a female to talk with. I also discovered that when there is physical or emotional pain, the patient and their family does not care about the gender of the chaplain. They are just grateful to have someone to walk with them through this temporary or sometimes final journey. As a hospital chaplain, even through it was in the Bible belt, I at times had the opportunity to minister to those of other faiths, and found that they were more open to a chaplain’s visit than they would have been to that of a minister of another faith.
As I visited my patients I more often than not was also ministered to, and I learned many vital lessons from them. I am thankful for the four-month old who had been in NICU since he was two days old that taught me about the depth of the womb connection between a mother and child. My conversations with him were verbally always one sided, but his eyes communicated a lot. As the days accumulated and the baby’s condition deteriorated, his parents quit coming so often. Late on a Sunday evening after 134 days at Erlanger he died. His mother was there. The charge nurse told me she had just happened to come in. She said that it was as if the baby had been waiting for her. I’m also thankful for the patient who taught me the importance of an initial contact with a patient and the family, no matter how short, and let me share in his final journey.
Serving as a chaplain helped me to grow spiritually, and I gained a new appreciation of human struggles. I saw those who struggled to live and those who struggled to die. There is no age limit to these struggles. Some who made it past the life/death struggle and lived were faced with a new struggle of how they would live. For many their life would never be the same and for others life would continue to be a constant struggle. I also saw the emotional and spiritual struggles of the patient’s family members. This sometimes seemed as hard, or harder, than the physical ones. The questions of why and how have no answers. I saw the staff also struggle with how to help their patients physically, and I struggled with how to help the patients and the staff emotionally and spiritually. As a hospital chaplain I never felt alone, but was part of a special ministering staff which included not only doctors and nurses, but also housekeepers and even the checkout ladies in the cafeteria. I also was glad for my fellow chaplains who listened with my personal struggles and ministered to me.

After going through a second CPE, I was able to serve as a hospital chaplain with Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga. As a member of the Memorial Home Health team, I found myself ministering in the homes of patients who had been discharged and were receiving home health care as well as visiting with them when they went back into the hospital. This experience added a new dimension to my ministry as I got to know my patients in a more personal way. I felt very blessed to be included with the other chaplains at Memorial as we ministered together. After being with Memorial for a year, my husband was appointed to West Virginia as the administrative bishop; and I now once again am serving in an administrative position as Women’s Ministries president. My heart, however, is still in chaplaincy ministry, and my prayer is that one day God will again grant me the opportunity to serve Him in this area. It is also my desire to share this burden with other women who will join me in this very special and specialized ministry.
Because of my experience I can truly say that whether one trains to be a clinical community chaplain or chooses to meet the requirements to serve on a certified staff position, the opportunities for women to minister in the area of chaplaincy is unlimited. Chaplaincy, perhaps as no other, it can truly be described by Galatians 3:28, ". . . there is neither Greek nor Jew, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”     By Ina Boling, State Women’s Ministries President, West Virginia


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