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Life and Death in the ER

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Trauma chaplain learns through suffering

Chaplain Tim RobinsonThe emergency room floor was still being mopped of a gunshot victim’s blood when a distraught loved one poked the hospital chaplain in the chest, asking, “Why did God allow my son to die?”

Tim Robinson MA ’08, a trauma chaplain for Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, knows better than to answer the question directly. “It would be foolish for me to attempt to say something profound and try to teach them about God’s sovereignty at that time.”

Whether a patient comes into the trauma center suffering from a life- threatening car accident, gunshot wound, or stage four cancer, Tim collects information on the identity of the person, calls the next of kin, and helps family members with their anxiety. In 2016 Tim was directly involved in processing 200 deaths. “I can have up to five deaths in a 12-hour period,” he explains. “My desire as a minister is to bring compassion into the situation.”

Tim knows the importance of compassion after 18 years in the pulpit of three different churches, plus enduring pain in his personal life. Through painful experiences that caused him to contemplate taking his own life, he says he’s become “a student of suffering,” which has enabled him to better share God’s love with suffering people.

Challenges at Church and Home

Tim was a 26-year-old youth pastor at an Indiana church when the senior pastor unexpectedly resigned. For two-and-a-half years, Tim juggled both roles before he realized the work was too heavy and stressful. After delegating his youth duties to others, he served six more years. Meanwhile, his wife, Amy, had two children with serious but temporary complications at birth.

When Tim accepted an associate pastor position at a large community church in St. Louis, his fourth child, Bryce, was born with severe club foot and Down syndrome. Between multiple foot surgeries, Bryce began having life-threatening seizures that could only be controlled with medication. Tim and his wife prayed fervently for their son’s health, but the problems continued. The increasing pressure of his home life made Tim grow weary of the everyday business of church meetings. “I became less and less patient with discussing trivial matters like the men’s softball team or what color we should paint the nursery, while I was personally going through all these issues at home,” he says.

When Bryce’s health improved, Tim earned a Master of Arts in Ministry from Moody Theological Seminary. He also accepted his dream job as an English pastor at a Chinese church in St. Louis. Having grown up in Mexico where his father planted churches, he’d always wanted to work in a cross-cultural congregation.

But personal problems continued to plague him. While Tim was pastoring in St. Louis, he found out a family member had been sexually molested. This wounded loved one attempted suicide several times over the next few years. Tim was granted a brief sabbatical to care for family matters, but “I knew I didn’t have the energy to keep pastoring,” he says. Tim resigned, then took a job in sales to keep food on the table.

That year out of the pulpit shook him. Called into ministry at age 15, Tim felt like he had lost his identity. “I think I had too closely associated myself with being a pastor instead of being in Christ. I felt like a lost soul.”

In 2010, the company downsized without notice and fired him. Soon, Tim ran out of money, filed for bankruptcy, and his house went into foreclosure. “All these things started happening, bam bam bam,” he recalls. “It was one of those It’s a Wonderful Life moments where I thought I was worth more dead than alive.”

Struggling through Suffering

Tim was despondent. With a $300,000 life insurance policy to support the family, he planned to commit suicide when his wife, Amy, left town to visit her parents. So with his heart pounding, he began to carry out his plan. But one image kept coming to mind—his son Bryce standing at the top of the stairs, shouting, “Daddy’s home!”

“I could push everyone else out of my head but I couldn’t push him out,” Tim says. “In a strange way, my son with Down Syndrome became the blessing that pulled me out of the storm.”

From that point on, Tim did whatever he could to make money—car detailing, yard work, and selling insurance. And, eventually, doors began to open for him to extend pastoral care to suffering friends. From that experience, Tim says, “I realized that there is an evangelistic responsibility to properly process my own suffering, because there are other people watching me, listening to me.”

Sharing in their Sufferings

In 2012, Tim began serving as a chaplain at a small pediatric hospital, and after more training, he was offered a position at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. Today, he’s primarily assigned to the Emergency Department and ICUs, but he responds to all in-house needs, assisting nursing staff with families in crisis. When a person who has attempted suicide is wheeled into the emergency room, Tim sees the terrible impact it has on a spouse and children. He is able to lend perspective, and sometimes he shares from his own experience. “You need an incredible amount of wisdom when you go down that path,” he says. If opportunities arise over time, he gently shares Christ.

His rigorous schedule isn’t easy. “I do not have the luxury of having an off-day when I’m in this role,” he says. “I have to maintain a close walk with the Lord to give me His sustaining presence.”

Tim says more biblically trained hospital chaplains are needed and hopes more Moody students will choose the field. He appreciates his Moody education because it gave him biblical tools to meet people’s spiritual and practical needs, and made him passionate about prayer.

“My prayers became more honest with God,” he says. “Instead of pretending I have it all together, I began asking God to help me let go of my agenda. I realized I needed to follow God and His agenda.”

Now Tim looks back on his suffering with gratitude. “Suffering helps me have a humble dependence on God that I didn’t have five years ago or even a year ago,” he explains. “My suffering has helped me to help others in their pain.”

Anneliese Rider ’16 is associate editor for Moody’s Marketing and Communications department.

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