Bringing ChristÕs presence
Dan Hudson serves as the chaplain for Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles. He spoke recently with Associate Editor Scott Harrup.
PE: What led you into this ministry?
HUDSON: IÕm an assistant pastor at Mision Ebenezer Family Church (Assemblies of God) in Carson, Calif. About 10 years ago I completed some studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. One of my concluding courses studied faith development through the lifespan of the child, teenager and adult and the interaction of the Holy Spirit within those different life stages. I joined a chaplain internship at UCLA Medical Center called Clinical Pastoral Education. I havenÕt looked back.
PE: Describe a day at Childrens Hospital.
HUDSON: In the morning I connect with night staff to get a sense of what the night has been like, particularly for families I have visited. I try to get a picture of what may be expected that day. I often meet with families who are anticipating a childÕs surgical procedure and are obviously quite anxious, and I can pray with them prior to surgery.
I follow up with families who have asked for a chaplainÕs visit. I also interact regularly with groups of physicians and nurses and other personnel. IÕll hear whatÕs going on with them and share how faith can be supportive to them. IÕll follow up with patients who come up in those discussions.
I respond to crisis events — for example, the death of a child who has been fighting an illness. IÕll be called in to be with those families. As a chaplain, I always look for ways to provide the presence of God — some type of prayer, some type of memorial or ending ritual.
PE: How do you approach a family that is facing a childÕs sudden health crisis?
HUDSON: If the family has specifically asked for a chaplain, it helps me to know how to engage them. I meet a lot of families because IÕm in an area when a crisis is going on. I may be called into a situation by a nurse or other staff member.
I try to get a sense of how faith and God are, if at all, part of what that family is facing. In traumatic situations, there are not a lot of opportunities for in-depth conversations about a familyÕs beliefs. TheyÕre in such grief. A lot of times there are language barriers. But I can still represent the caring, loving presence of Christ.
I try to emphasize that God is with this family in this situation and He is there to be a presence that is supportive and loving. If possible, I will speak to the child as well as to the family about Jesus being with them.
PE: What about a family facing a long-term challenge?
HUDSON: I want to let them share and review their life. Often those themes speak to GodÕs being with them now. Their life of faith may have been uncomplicated, and now it has taken this crazy turn. But you continue to lift up how God is involved in the moment to bring hope and a sense of divine presence in a world taken over by technology and medicines and strangers and being away from home and being disconnected from faith communities.
PE: How do you help families reaffirm their understanding of GodÕs goodness when they see their child suffering?
HUDSON: Scripture is full of every human emotion or reaction to what life brings. It is helpful to remind families how human the people in Scripture were. Even JesusÕ emotions were a part of what He experienced. ItÕs important to listen to the experiences and emotions families are facing and not judge them — not run away from them, not offer a hasty answer, but simply listen and be present and keep coming back.
PE: Have you seen the miraculous take place?
HUDSON: I see miracles all the time. ThereÕs a Korean family in our pediatric intensive care unit. They have a 5-year-old daughter. This is her third visit — the third, basically near-death experience. She came in during a crisis and most of the team felt she would not survive. But there are two pastors in this family. They are trusting God that this is not going to take her life, that there are some big plans for this young girl. They rally in prayer; they stay optimistic. The last couple of mornings she has not been connected to a ventilator and sheÕs awake and interacting. ThatÕs a miracle.
IÕve been with other families who have been just as hopeful and committed in their faith and their child dies. I see the miracle of GodÕs sustaining power in those circumstances. In those last moments of a childÕs life, though they might not be able to respond, they can hear words from those around them. I have stood with family members and witnessed amazing strength as they expressed their love and assurances to their child. IÕve sensed JesusÕ presence in those moments.
PE: Do you find people are open to the gospel during a health crisis?
HUDSON: If IÕm living out what I understand the gospel to be, I donÕt find that they reject that. There are times when a family will decline a visit, but itÕs rare. In terms of presenting the gospel, it can get really creative. This is a secular hospital. ItÕs 100 years old and chaplains have only been here for the last 10 years. WeÕre new kids on the block. How explicit the gospel story comes out really varies. But there are many opportunities. It has really stretched me as a Christian.
PE: Who are some children who have inspired you?
HUDSON: Jacob was one of the first boys I worked with at UCLA Medical Center in 1993. He was about 5 with leukemia. He was going through a bone marrow transplant. A real special kid who was in a horrible situation — his body rejected the treatment and he died. But I connected with him and his parents. I made a point of asking Jacob to pray for me. His simple prayer was that God would help me to let other children and their families know how much Jesus loves them. I often remember that prayer and Jacob when I meet families.
Matthew was a 15-year-old with a tumor in his abdomen that killed him. I met him the first day he came in. We went through a lot together and there was always something that impressed me about how important it was for him to experience GodÕs presence.
PE: How do you strengthen yourself spiritually when you are constantly dealing with difficult life circumstances?
HUDSON: IÕve got a pretty balanced life. I go from here and my son, Samuel, who is 8, and my daughter, Elissa, who is 5, are fighting and making up with each other and making havoc of our house. I work with Royal Rangers. What a great balance, to work with 20 kids who drive me nuts. ThereÕs a whole other side of me that can have fun with them. ItÕs nice, too, that my wife, Debbie, is a pediatric nurse working here in the emergency room. We have an unspoken understanding about what we face each day at work.
Church is a big part of my life. The life of the church is what the gospel is about. I appreciate being a part of a community where weÕre out in the trenches. A lot of people from many walks of life are meeting Jesus at our church. That blesses my soul. ItÕs bigger than I am. ItÕs bigger than this ministry. I value the opportunity to lift up Christ to folks who are going through the regular knee-scraping, bruising experiences of life that arenÕt sickness-related.
IÕm grateful to be part of the AG. Chaplain Emanuel Williams, the national health care chaplaincy representative, has come to Los Angeles to support my ministry.
PE: Is there a growing need for hospital chaplains?
HUDSON: Yes. Fortunately, there is a movement by the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Hospitals to have hospitals address familiesÕ spiritual care needs. When they evaluate a hospital, they are looking to see that hospitals have chaplains for families. California has a law that those spiritual care needs be addressed. So there is a need out there for hospital chaplains, and thatÕs probably going to increase.
As an evangelical Pentecostal in this field, I see more chaplains from my tradition coming, but there are not a lot. I often connect with families who are evangelical or fundamental or even Pentecostal in their beliefs. When medical staff meet these families who are clinging so tightly to a miracle when everything else runs against that, theyÕre often concerned how such a family will end up. They feel like these families are in complete denial. But I continue to see the resilience of these families who have prayed for the healing and complete recovery that did not come. IÕve stayed in relationship with some of these families. Their faith has steered and sustained them.
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