Ferguson turmoil draws U.S. evangelist's rapid response team

Sun Mar 15, 2015 10:58pm EDT
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By Richard Valdmanis

FERGUSON, Missouri (Reuters) - Hours after two police officers were shot at a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, last week, a black Kenworth truck in North Carolina hauling a collapsible conference room began rolling down the highway toward the scene, intent on bringing peace and saving souls.

The truck, one of Christian evangelist Billy Graham's Rapid Response Team vehicles, sped toward the latest U.S. crisis armed with chaplains trained to help people cope with everything from tornadoes to mass shootings.

"The police force needed chaplains after the shooting, and we've also been serving the protesters," said Al New, manager of the team's U.S. deployments, who drove the truck.

Ferguson, reeling since the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown seven months ago and subsequent demonstrations, has been thrust into the center of a national debate on race and policing.

Tensions flared this month with the release of a U.S. Justice Department report detailing what it called systemic bias in the police force and a court system that disproportionately levied steep fines on Ferguson’s black residents.

On Sunday, when officials announced a suspect had been arrested in the shooting of the police officers, shouting and shoving broke out among scores of protesters outside Ferguson's police station.

Soon, uniformed Graham chaplains emerged from the mobile conference room parked across the street, talking people down and even dragging a woman by the wrist from an angry crowd.

Over the course of the day, the chaplains invited people into the truck, offering snacks and prayer.   Continued...