Unexpected Encounters

Two days in the life of  a volunteer hospital chaplain

By Charlie Maloney

One way I have served our community through the years is as a volunteer chaplain at our local hospital.

When the hospital asked our ministerial association for volunteer help, I gladly accepted. I have the gift of compassion, and the hospital was only a mile from my church.

Camarillo is a small, everyone-knows-everyone type of town. So this was a perfect way for me to contribute to the spiritual well-being of the place I have lived for 35 years.

Stray Puppy

One morning, as I was preparing to make my chaplain rounds, I noticed a stray cocker spaniel had slipped through the automatic doors and into the hospital lobby. A visitor and I rounded up the disoriented puppy and carefully escorted it outside.

11_Maloney_JNWe had barely turned our backs when the dog zipped back in as the next person walked through the doors.

The poor pup was obviously a runaway or a throwaway. It was scared and had no dog tag. Needless to say, a stray dog roaming around a hospital is a health concern, plus I realized chasing the dog could keep me busy all morning.

The volunteer hospital greeter had observed what was going on and called the local animal protection office.

One of their representatives arrived quickly and rescued both the dog and me.

Lost Checkbook

The next day, as I was again making my chaplain rounds, the hospital operator paged a visitor—a person I knew—whom I had just seen leaving. (Remember it’s a small town.)

It seems the visitor had left his checkbook while visiting a friend who was a patient. A nurse turned the checkbook in to the front desk, and the operator was trying to find the person and return it.

I told the operator I thought the guy had just left, and since I knew him, I’d be glad to call and tell him the checkbook was safe. The operator was most thankful.

Hospital procedures require pastoral volunteers to make daily reports on whom they visited and the assistance provided.

As I filled out my report, I wondered how I should describe the dog and checkbook incidents.

I imagined the chaplain supervisor reading my report: “Helped a visiting lost dog find a safe home for the night and reunited a friend with his checkbook.” Some serious ministry took place.

Unplanned Opportunities

Then it occurred to me how many times we’re called to serve people who really aren’t part of our normal responsibilities or daily routines.

They cross our paths and we make the extra effort to serve them, and that’s a good thing.

Insignificant acts of Christlike kindness often become hugely significant. Especially to those being helped.

And the truth is, Christ followers are most happy when we’re serving others like Jesus did as life unfolds and as unplanned encounters happen.

I thought about the visitor who helped round up the dog, the nurse who turned in the lost checkbook, the operator who called the animal protection office, and my small contribution trying to locate the owner of the misplaced checkbook.

These were not on my ministry to-do lists for the day, but were real blessings to both man and dog.

Paul wrote,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:3-7).

It’s been said, “We have plenty of generals. What we really need are a few more privates.” Paul might add, “. . . and a few more servants, too.”

Charlie Maloney serves as senior pastor at Camarillo (California) Christian Church.

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