Faith Matters: Hospice chaplain speaks from experience

When the Rev. Bill Brewer, 65, ministers to patients and families as a hospice chaplain, he can speak from personal experience.

His first wife of 32 years spent five months in hospice before her death 10 years ago, and Brewer was inspired by the chaplain who often came to visit.

“People would come into the home, particularly the chaplain, and I enjoyed every service offered because every service helped her, or myself and my family in some way,” he said.

Three months after his wife’s death, Brewer, a native of Arkansas and former pastor of Goodwood Boulevard Church of Christ in Baton Rouge, got an invitation to be chaplain.

He had spent about 30 years in the ministry, working as a missionary in the Philippines and pastoring two churches in Louisiana and Mississippi, before answering his call to be a chaplain. Brewer, who has a master’s degree in theology, said the hospice experience has been rewarding.

Such was the case Sunday when Brewer led a memorial service at Jefferson United Methodist for families whose loved ones he and Hospice In His Care Inc. had recently assisted.

“What brought joy to me is I had known a number of the people who came,” he said. “I had (conducted) some of their loved ones’ funeral services, for example. And in talking to some of them personally, I know that our coming together brought them peace.”

Brewer said a few family members he visited with Sunday could hardly talk.

“Mainly, they cried, but that’s a part of healing,” he said. “God gave us tears to cry.”

The hospice concept targets the spiritual, emotional and physical needs, Brewer said. As a chaplain, he said his responsibilities include praying with families, reading Scripture and even serving Communion.

“We become emotionally attached to some of these individuals the longer we get to know them,” he said.

Once a month, he facilitates a grief support group at a local funeral home for widows and widowers. He is often assisted by his second wife, Jean, whom he married four years ago after the death of her husband.

“Both of us lost our mates, so we can connect with the people who come,” he said. “Everybody brings their experience and talks about their journey.”

Using spiritual weapons

Believers at Wisdom Rock Ministries in Baton Rouge on Sunday were challenged to utilize the array of weapons God has given them to fight the enemy.

“A lot of folks don’t seem to understand that to be a Christian means to engage in spiritual warfare,” said Gerald Boatner, an associate minister at First Emmanuel Baptist Church. “If you have decided to make Jesus the lord of your life, you are going to go through spiritual warfare.”

Boatner as guest speaker took his message titled “What Weapons Are You Using?” from 2 Corinthians 10:4: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”

Boatner, 52, told how a cocaine addiction once had a stronghold in his life, contributing to him becoming an excessive liar and thief.

“Many of us today in the church don’t even realize that we deal with stronghold in our lives,” he said. “They don’t realize the enemy attacks the church more than anything.”

That’s why it’s crucial to know what weapons are available to fight, including prayer, faith and the blood of Jesus which “cleanses us from all unrighteousness,” he said. “There’s power in the blood.”

Boatner called himself a “living testimony” to the power God gave him to tear down the strongholds of addiction and low self-esteem.

“That’s who I had become but that’s not what God has called me to be,” he said. “The same God that delivered me whatever you’re going through he can deliver you.”

On a mission

A Louisiana couple left their two kids — ages 19 and 21 — in prison during a mission trip to Haiti in 2011.

That’s just one of the wild and sometimes humourous stories Joe Cunningham Jr. shares in “Honey, I Think We Left Our Kids in the Haitian Prison.” The book’s subtitle is “And a Few More Stories From a Few More Haiti Mission Trips.”

Cunningham, a Natchitoches financial adviser and business owner, has been to Haiti four times. He goes as part of Haiti Mission Inc., a group formed in 2000 by members of the St. Bridget Catholic Church of Schriever. The mission’s primary focus has been the villages of Numero Deux, Kay en Rone and Pawoty near the city of Jeremie on Haiti’s west coast.

Helping inspire Haiti Mission Inc. and the book was Houma pharmacist Lloyd Duplantis, who in 1999 answered a journal’s ad to do mission work in Haiti and Mexico.

“Both were powerful moving experiences for Duplantis, but something about Haiti was different — or maybe it was a kinship. When he left Haiti, he remembered that he found people of a different color with the same last names as his friends in South Louisiana,” Cunningham writes.

The Haiti prison tale from which the book got its title was based on a 2011 group trip to help feed inmates at a Jeremie prison. Cunningham, his wife, Terri, and others were escorted out of the prison for a restroom break.

About a 100 yards from the prison, he stopped, suddenly experiencing “a horrible sense of overwhelming parental guilt, I turned around, facing the prison, and caught sight of my children, Caitlin and Scott, staring at us from inside the prison, hands gripped tightly on the steel bars, a look of ‘did you really leave us in this Haitian prison?’ seared across their faces.”

The 132-page book has its share of more poignant stories, showing the plight of the poor in Haiti and their faith, love for life and warmth.

“A mission to Haiti is not just about what you do for the Haitians,” Cunningham writes. “They do something far more powerful for you. They make you see the frailty of life, the randomness of who is born in affluent countries and the miserable luck of those who are not.”

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.