Tom Stafford unlocked the door to the chaplain’s office and flipped on the light. Everyone was gone for the day, but as a relief chaplain at Adventist Medical Center (AMC) in Portland, Ore., Tom had just finished his evening rounds on the units. As usual, he returned to the office to jot down a few notes before leaving. He knew he could be reached via pager in the event that anyone else at the hospital needed him during the night.
As he sat in the quiet office documenting his activities, the phone at the reception desk started to ring. Knowing he could be paged, Tom debated whether to let the call go to voice mail. But after hearing the phone ring again and again, he instinctively reached for it. “This is the pastoral care office,” he said. “May I help you?”
Tom’s query was returned by an urgent voice on the other end of the phone. “I need to talk to an Adventist minister; can you help me? I’m in the emergency room, and I desperately need a pastor.” Tom assured the woman he could help her, and rushed to the ER.
Having met with patients and family members in the ER many times, Tom was surprised when a well-dressed woman—who was clearly not in need of medical care—greeted him. She explained that she was not sick but, rather, in need of spiritual help. “I knew I could find that here,” she explained to Tom. In the quietness of the hospital’s chapel, the “patient” poured her heart out and expressed her desire to come back to Jesus and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
As the woman’s story tumbled out, Tom learned that after she had graduated from an Adventist academy, she had turned to drugs, alcohol, and other illicit activities. Recently, she had gone through a treatment program but knew that none of it would be complete without Jesus. Reverently the woman knelt with Tom in the chapel, and through her tears she sought a new relationship with Jesus Christ. After praying and talking with Tom, she left the hospital comforted and armed with the address and phone number of a local Adventist church. And Tom went home knowing that healing can occur without ever seeing a doctor.