In June of this year, the nation was torn by a tragedy that left 49 people dead and 53 others wounded at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This shooting has been recorded as the worst mass shooting in US history. The day after this attack, Stephanie Starks was on a plane with an assignment to serve the community that was so freshly mourning the loss of their family, and friends.
Stephanie has been a chaplain for Rock Church since 2008, but works full-time as an International Association of Machinists and Aviation Works (IAM) Representative. She serves on the Join Air Transport Safety Committee, acts as a Health and Safety Chairman, Flight Safety Coordinator and a Critical Incident Response Director.
The day after the shooting, Stephanie was sent to Orlando for a full week to attend to the airline employees who were injured and to an airline customer service agent who lost his son. She was able to counsel many employees who lost their family and friends. Getting placed right in the thick of such a major tragedy was very humbling for Stephanie. “I could see the need and wished I could do so much more. It was an eye opener, definitely.”
While she was there, Stephanie attended the funeral of the son of a colleague and his partner. Two families. Two caskets. At the funeral Stephanie was heartbroken by the hate that was displayed by various groups in the community while these families were mourning the death of their sons. Feeling caught in the middle of the gauntlet display, she felt even more love for those families. As a believer, Stephanie was given a unique opportunity to show a community what the love of God truly looks like – no strings attached. This tragic event was surrounded by hate, confusion, frustration, and despair. Many people were crying out to God for answers. For Stephanie, it didn’t matter that some of the victims weren’t believers, or had a different religious background, or were homosexual. “People are people. They had pain. There was hurt, shock, and sadness. I think having an open mind and acceptance helped a lot. They needed hugs, compassion, and understanding.”
In just one week with these families, Stephanie was able to connect people with resources and counseling to help them through their grief. She encouraged a Southwest Airlines employee who was planning on going to the nightclub that night, but stayed home with his mom instead. He lost 5 of his friends. Another employee lost his roommate and 7 of his closest friends and was dealing with depression. One young woman, who was just released from the hospital with a bullet still in her collarbone, came home to have the talk with her parents about her sexuality. Stephanie was there to help counsel the family through the emotional situation.
As a chaplain and in her full-time job, Stephanie is sent to serve God’s people in the middle of some of the darkest times of their life. “I just go where He leads me, and know He is with me and it is His words of comfort flowing through me. I felt He was working through me to take care of his children…we are all God’s children and should treat each other with respect and love.”
To learn more about the Chaplains Ministry at Rock Church, visit sdrock.com/chaplains. For more information and encouragement, watch this recent message from Pastor Mickey on finding God in the midst of pain.