In October 2017, an uncontrollable wildfire spread across three Northern California counties. Called the Tubbs Fire, it burned over 30,000 acres and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. When devastation like this occurs, people expect to be able to lean on the Church. Yet disasters don’t come with an instruction manual, even for pastors.
However, James R. Uhey, U.S. missionary with Chaplaincy Ministries, is doing his best to help church leaders and laity know how to respond in times of trouble.
Uhey makes himself available when large and small disasters occur, primarily in California and Nevada. Uhey became one of the first to respond to the October massacre in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead, working with Pastors Randy Greer and Vic Caruso of Trinity Life Center. He also assisted Pastor Gene Roncone of Highpoint Church following the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, theater that claimed a dozen lives in 2012.
Uhey founded and leads The Phoenix Project USA to aid those afflicted by natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other incidents involving mass fatalities.
Trained in grief management through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Uhey is often a welcome sight to pastors after disaster strikes. He serves as vice president of Northern California’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, and he is president of the Santa Cruz County chapter. Uhey consults pastors and other congregational leaders on the appropriate first steps following a tragedy.
Uhey aims to build bridges between the secular and faith communities. In December, Uhey graduated from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute’s Executive Academy. The program is an intensive four weeks, with 40 students in the class.
“I was the only one in the class from the faith community,” Uhey says. “I’ve had numerous emergency managers from my class that have asked for help in building relationships with the faith community. A lot want the Church to be part of the process.”
Many first responders who have gone through similar training as Uhey end up working with specific departments; often they become chaplains with local police forces or fire departments. Uhey’s role allows him to focus his efforts on larger-scale disasters.
“By being a U.S. missionary, I can respond to our churches throughout the nation and educate them on best practices for helping the community,” Uhey says.
“Jim Uhey’s role as a first response organizer and educator is vital,” says Michael L. Reighard, Critical Incident Ministries representative for Chaplaincy Ministries. “Every church in our Fellowship can be involved in response efforts. Reighard, who heads Chaplaincy Ministries’ 461 Response, works with all AG first response chaplains.
“46:1 Response helps identify church resources, people, and ministries available to help people in difficult times,” Reighard says. “Most people come to know Christ through a difficult situation where God gets hold of them. What better way to meet people’s needs?”
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