A Ministry of Presence
by Samara Smyer10/16/2023 9:00:00 AM
U.S. missionary chaplain Kevin Kappler had just finished speaking at a church when a man approached him. Kevin, whose primary ministry focuses on law enforcement officers, had spoken about the unseen struggles that officers face daily. The man who approached him revealed, “I am a police officer. We have had five homicides in the past few weeks, and I cannot stop thinking about it. I cannot handle it all.” In that moment, Kevin shared the gospel and plan of salvation with the officer, who accepted Christ on the spot.
Kevin reassured him, “You are not meant to deal with these things alone. That is what Jesus is for.”
Before becoming a fully commissioned U.S. missionary serving with Chaplaincy Ministries, Kevin engaged in chaplaincy from a pastoral perspective. He originally became acquainted with chaplaincy while living in Indiana and searching for a way to connect more with his community.
Eventually, Kevin and his wife, Sharon, moved to Farmington, Missouri, where he spent the next several years pastoring New Life Church. Remembering that his time with chaplaincy allowed him to see what was happening in the community, he got involved with chaplaincy locally whenever possible.
Kevin felt called to take the next step while listening to a U.S. missionary speak at a Rural Compassion conference. While he remained a pastor, Kevin connected more with local law enforcement and Emergency Medical Services. These connections led him to look into becoming a full-time missionary. “I got to the place where I recognized the huge need for chaplains, for a ministry of presence to our law enforcement,” Kevin says. “I began wondering what could be accomplished if I committed to this full time.” Still, he was hesitant. He was in his 50s, and the idea of undergoing a major career change presented many new challenges.
Though he did not feel prepared, Kevin wanted to educate himself about the ins and outs of law enforcement. He enrolled in a law enforcement academy at age 52. “The academy was my way of understanding the language and training of law enforcement,” says Kevin. “It was an extremely uncomfortable two semesters.”
Through his time at the academy, Kevin was still pastoring, but he felt God leading him to engage in chaplaincy full time. He graduated with an associate degree in criminal justice in 2020 and became a fully commissioned U.S. missionary the next year.
Now, Kevin serves the Farmington City Police, St. Francois County Ambulance District, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and Park Rangers Eastern Region.
He travels across the country when he is not ministering to local law enforcement, educating others on the need for law enforcement chaplaincy and speaking with men and women who are involved in chaplaincy themselves. “The goal I have in my ministry is to recruit and equip other chaplains with practical things I have learned,” he says.
In addition to his work with chaplaincy, Kevin also makes music and recently signed his first recording contract. “Just like chaplaincy, my music is a piece of who I am. The two complement each other,” he says.
After 10 years as a chaplain, every experience gives Kevin a fresh perspective on the life of a police officer, and he is even more aware that people are not used to experiencing the level of tragedy police experience on a consistent basis.
One morning at around 1:30, Kevin got a call that two officers had been shot, one fatally. While he was not dispatched for this tragedy, he realized that the officer who had passed was extremely young and his coworkers were upset, with two of them being Kevin’s fellow academy students. He spent the next few days reaching out to officers and friends who knew the young man, visiting, praying with and comforting them. “No one, not even police officers, should have to experience these kinds of things,” Kevin says.
Between being exposed to tragedies on a regular basis and dealing with officers who, while dealing with tragedies themselves, may be hesitant to speak about their experiences, Kevin asks for prayer for mental and emotional resilience.
“In May, we had a call of a one-year-old lying face down in a bathtub. After arriving on the scene, I spent time attempting to console two parents who were utterly beside themselves,” Kevin says. “I do not know how others deal with these types of situations without Christ.” While he regularly implements devotional time filled with prayer and Bible reading, Kevin also requests prayer for a refreshing of his spirit. “When you are in the fire, it is easier to get burned. I do not want to burn out.”
While law enforcement officers are generally perceived as physically and mentally tough and resilient, this often translates into officers keeping their issues inside. According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, law enforcement workers in the United States are 69% more likely to die by suicide than civilians. Police officers also lead in the risk of alcoholism and divorce.
Officers working in law enforcement can deal with graphic, gruesome, or emotionally taxing incidents multiple times in a single shift. Then they are often expected to leave work and live a normal life. Kevin explains that officers often do not talk about the issues they are facing with their families, but with other officers. “Many of the conversations they have would not be considered normal outside of the law enforcement culture.”
Kevin hopes to educate communities on the issues law enforcement faces. One of the most common things he hears after he speaks at churches or to groups is, “We knew the police dealt with things, but we did not realize it was that bad.”
“The hardest part of being a police chaplain is having to see really rough stuff — suicides, bullets in heads, talking to parents whose children just passed away in traumatic ways … it is extremely hard,” says Kevin. “Law enforcement officers have the potential of dealing with that stuff every day.”
Kevin believes that one of the best things he can do is get into an officer’s car. These moments, no matter how mundane they may seem, allow him to build a relationship with the officers. For Kevin, this does not mean taking every moment of silence as an opportunity to “shove Jesus down their throat,” but to show His love through action. He describes his mission as having a ministry of presence. “I constantly let them know that I am praying for them and attempt to be visible through their day-to-day lives. I want them to know I am there to support them in any way I can,” Kevin explains.
It is through these casual conversations, prayer, and support that officers become more comfortable and begin trusting Kevin. “If I have built a relationship with an officer, they will be more apt to have a serious conversation with me when there is a critical incident,” he explains. Because of his ability to build relationships, Kevin has seen multiple officers accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and has been able to disciple them as new believers.
When Kevin sees officers surrender to Christ, when they invite him to be part of their day-to-day life, and when he is able to give people a sense of peace for even a second, “that’s when I know the Holy Spirit is working,” he says.
Kevin hopes to continue building relationships with those working as police chaplains, providing emotional and practical support and coverage through the creation of a local chaplaincy network. Eventually, he would like to help other counties institute similar practices as well.
Overall, Kevin summarizes his love for chaplaincy simply: “I love serving those who serve.”