Chaplain helps veterans look toward eternity
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP) -- Bill Andrews* has spent his entire life serving others -- his family, friends and his country. Now the Korean War veteran lies in a hospital bed waiting on death, often feeling like a burden to friends, family and the hospital staff surrounding him.
That's where Southern Baptist chaplain Anthony Beazley (@chapbeaz) comes into the picture. Beazley has been a regular fixture at Andrews' bed in the West Palm Beach Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"I consider him a friend," Beazley said of Andrews. "I listen to him at the end of his life now. I listen to the pain -- not the physical pain but the pain of loss. Things about his life that he had never shared with me before."
And, as he listens, Beazley comforts the best way he knows how -- through God's Word. Though he must be able to help patients regardless of their spiritual backgrounds, he never shies away from pointing people to the Bible. Beazley is one of more than 3,600 Southern Baptist chaplains endorsed by the North American Mission Board serving in a variety of fields throughout North America, including 128 chaplains in VA hospitals.
Beazley once served in the Air Force and had been both a pastor and a hospital chaplain before his current position. He sees those to whom he ministers today as true American heroes. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs records for 2011, more than 8.5 million American veterans were enrolled in its health care system.
"I don't even like to call them patients," Beazley said. "They're truly heroes. They've been willing to sacrifice their lives for us."
Although he is the VA hospital's chief of chaplain services, Beazley also serves in many ways as if he were a pastor, caring for and counseling patients and even officiating funerals.
Chaplains in active service and in veterans hospitals often get the reputation as the go-to-person when someone is out of options. Beazley frequently helps patients find what they need -- like getting their questions answered or acquiring help from another area of the Department of Veterans Affairs -- regardless of whether the need is spiritual.
"Many times they just need that ministry of presence," Beazley said. "They just want someone to hear them, to pray with them and to share their struggle with them."
Frequently, the conversation turns spiritual, especially at the hospital where Beazley serves, which has one of the oldest patient populations of any VA hospital in the country.
"They want to know about what's out there," Beazley said. "Many times questions come up like 'What's next?' or 'What will God say to me?' I'm able to share a bit of Scripture with them and help them see what's in store for them in eternity. I'm not there to proselytize, but I've been able to talk to people at the end of life who wanted to hear the Gospel."
On the most difficult days, Beazley said, "God has called me to do this, He's looking out for me. I know I'm in His will. And He will shower me with His grace and give me the strength to come back the next day and do it all over again."
Beazley recommends that others contemplating a chaplaincy role in a hospital -- for veterans or otherwise -- take the time to get trained, both in academic and on-the-job settings. Because of the important nature of the work, he suggests that potential chaplains don't take shortcuts in training just to get it behind them. He also recommends that they serve with their church's hospital ministry or shadow their pastor as he makes hospital calls.
God uses Southern Baptists to provide much of the strength Beazley needs. He appreciates the cards, letters and prayers that come from being a North American Mission Board-endorsed chaplain. One man sends Beazley an email of encouragement every year on his birthday -- and promises his prayers throughout the year.
"I couldn't do what I do without the support of Southern Baptists," Beazley added. "Even at a big hospital, it's often lonely as a chaplain. We're often listening to the needs of others, but people aren't there to listen to ours. So when Southern Baptists send a card or a letter, it's very encouraging to know we're not alone."
*Name has been changed to protect the patient's privacy. Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Anthony Beazley and his ministry, visit namb.net/video/tony-beazley. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).