Why a Comfort Dog? They help me do my job better…

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m an introvert. I’m not just a little introverted. I’m not in any middle ground. I’m about a 19/20 on the scale when I take those inventories. You pick the word and I’m it: shy, reserved, quiet, hard to read, aloof, weird, etc. I’ve been called them all. It’s not totally my fault either. I’m wired this way by my Creator. I must have been wired this way for a reason. (Maybe I’ll write some more someday about ministry by/for/through introverts, but today is really about the Comfort Dog)

For me the challenge of being introverted has to do with finding a reason to talk to someone. A quiet guy like me doesn’t usually approach someone on the street for a chat unless there is a clear reason. Every conversation for an introvert needs a purpose. Small talk is not our gig especially with people we don’t know. Give me a reason to talk, and I’ll do it. It’s not that I can’t talk to people, or even that I’m not interested in talking to people. It’s that I like to know that my conversation serves a purpose otherwise it really feels forced.

This makes evangelism a little tricky for a quiet guy like me. Generally the conversation needs to build from some kind of common ground to an opportunity to share Jesus. Having a clear reason to start a conversation can make it easier for an introvert to take the first step. Comfort Dogs make great conversation starters! And their purpose in bringing Comfort makes a nice transition to our ultimate purpose of sharing God’s love in Jesus. Thanks for helping me do my job better Comfort Dogs! (Btw, I hear Comfort Dogs can help my extroverted friends slow down and be better listeners too, but I’ll let them speak for themselves)

Please help us start conversations that lead to Jesus. Here’s the link.

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Why a Comfort Dog? They know what to do…

There are times when I don’t know what to do or say. Oh, I know the right answer is always Jesus. I was trained theologically by some of the best Lutheran minds in the world so I know the answers to a lot of questions. However, there are times when answers are not to be given. There are times when it’s best not to lecture. There are plenty of times when I just don’t know what would be best.

I’m thinking of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus and the conversation he has with Mary and Martha. There is some teaching going on, but in the end Jesus does something remarkable. He cries with them. He didn’t rush to take away their pain, solve their problem, and make their issues go away. He wept.

We see that living the faith isn’t just a rational exercise of getting the answers right. In fact, if we have the right answer, but apply it incorrectly we’re just as wrong, right? There are times when my mind knows the right answer, but the timing is all wrong. Times when I shouldn’t be band-aiding with Bible verses and Christian platitudes. There are times when it’s best to be present and shed some tears with a person in pain. The time for talking will come, but we can sometimes be too quick to speak.

The Comfort Dogs know this, or at least were created in such a way that they naturally DO this. No lectures. No right answers. No quizzes. Just unconditional love through their presence.

It’s 24 hours after Newtown’s horrific shooting. It’s 36 hours after runners had their legs blown off by a terrorist’s bomb. It’s two days after a devastating tornado wiped away an entire block, and people are just getting to OK to go back and find their belongings scattered across the county. Do you have all the answers?

The time for words will come, and because you were there with the presence of a Comfort Dog you’ll get to share them. Help us make this vision happen.  Support us here!

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Why a Comfort Dog? The ministry is working…

We’re not going into this experience blind. We’re not adding a dog to our ministry because we think it’s a cute gimmick that will draw attention. We’re not looking for advertising potential. We’re looking to bring the Comfort of Jesus, and these dogs do just that. We’ve looked at how the Comfort Dog ministry has been used across the country over the past several years, and we’re confident that it’s working.

The Comfort Dog vision began in the midst of sorrow on the campus of Northern Illinois University after one of the horrific school shootings that seem to have plagued our country recently. A couple of trained dogs known to the Lutheran Church Charities staff were brought in to be with students on the campus to help them process. They were invited back. This is the usual reaction to the Comfort Dogs in areas of the worst devastation. They are invited back.

We first came to know the Comfort Dogs personally through their work at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT. Who knows what to do in response to that tragic event? A Comfort Dog does. People recognize that, and invite them back. Day after day Maggie Comfort Dog continues to be welcomed into the public school system in Newtown because of her work in those first days when few people really knew what to do except the dogs.

We saw them even closer up in Boston where crowds of people returned to find the dogs whenever they were in town. Grown adults curled up on the sidewalk to get some comfort and pray with the handlers. In Boston!

We’ve been following dogs on facebook, talking with handlers, and discussing how to do ministry with a dog with Rich and Dona Martin and the Comfort Dog leaders at Lutheran Church Charities. We’re confident that the ministry works.

We’re confident that this ministry is working, and we’re excited to use it in our area just as successfully as the ministry is being used in towns all across the United States. We need your help to make it happen. Please click here to help.

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Why a Comfort Dog? They bring down walls…

New Englanders are famous for their jovial, loving, and warm dispositions, right? Wrong. There is a reason the most famous face in NH was made of stone. People from New England, like their winters, can often be cold and tough. A quiet and introverted guy like me LOVES that about New England, but it can be hard to be a pastor in this environment because it takes a while to chip away at the outer walls to get to the heart of the matter.

Usually when a guy with a pastor’s collar walks into a room he can feel those walls going up. In a region where only about 13% of people are in worship on a given Sunday a pastor can feel as wanted as a snow cone salesmen in northern Maine. We know that people mostly talk to us from the towers of their well-built walls (think Monty Python and the French Taunting). We also know that if people would talk from their hearts instead they might find some Comfort in meeting Jesus. The challenge is getting to the heart that lies inside the longstanding walls.

I got to spend a couple of days with some Comfort Dogs following the Marathon Bombings. The main thing I realized is that these dogs knock down walls. Maybe it’s better to say that they melt walls, and you can see it happen. I walked into hospital rooms, nursing homes, and places on the street with my pastor collar on and a dog at my side. As people spent time with the dogs the walls dissolved and I was able to see the real self that lies inside.   The dogs were able to get to the heart of the matter in minutes. A prayer and a word of Scripture was like salve in these wounded hearts instead of merely bouncing off the outer walls.

We want to add a dog to our ministry in order to help people get to know the true self that lies deep inside the walls they’ve built over the years. Some people are really glad to have the dog’s help to melt those walls away so they can find comfort deep inside. If you want to help us make this dream come true, please click here.

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Why a Comfort Dog? They’re HIGHLY trained…

I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a dog guy. All the crotch sniffing, annoying midnight barks, dog-doo on my lawn, and wet dog smell? Really? I don’t know how anybody puts up with that.

Then I met the LCC Comfort Dogs. It’s like they’re not even really dogs. They don’t sniff you to say hello. They don’t chase squirrels. They don’t bark. They’re highly trained, and when those vests are on they’re at work! They’re better behaved than most kids I know, and in all the days I’ve spent with these dogs not one time did a Golden Nose shove its way into my privates. That’s saying something!

The training program these dogs go through is rigorous and multifaceted. They are trained on the level of a service dog. They could get your underwear out of the drawer for you, but only if you told them too. They are trained like the dogs you see helping people who live with various handicaps. They’re amazingly well trained. They’re also exposed to all sorts of different setting so they don’t freak out when they see something new. They do escalators, air planes, farms, parks, kids’ parties, and crowds without a problem. Like I said, no barking, no sniffing, no “dog” behavior! It’s amazing!

The dogs are trained to be a comfort to people in need.  They know how to approach someone in a wheel chair or bed.  They know how to relax with children, and don’t judge people based on race, age, class, or gender.  They are highly trained in order to bring comfort in a variety of situations.  This type of training will allow safety, trust, and a good relationship with the communities that we visit. We’re happy that Lutheran Church Charities has started this ministry and provides these dogs to congregations like ours that want to add a dog to our team. All this comes with a hefty price tag, so please go to our fundraising site and be generous!

 

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Why a Comfort Dog? They open doors…

Monday night, April 15th 2013. Three pastors sat in the office of First Lutheran Church to find ways to serve our neighbors after our city was attacked. Our first move was to call the area hospitals and offer to make pastoral visits. We called every hospital in Boston and got the same response. “Thanks for the offer, but we’ve got all the help we need at the moment.” The doors were closed. We knew that there were people on the other side of those doors who could use a prayer and the encouragement on God’s Word: “I am with you always! And, “Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!” But, the doors were closed.

Wednesday, April 17th. Tim Hetzner of Lutheran Church Charities called Tuft Medical Center and told them the dogs are here. The SWAT team armed with machine guns standing guard at the back door parted, the doors slid open, and a team of dogs, handlers, and pastors walked in to share the Comfort of Jesus to people in need. The doors were opened.

The difference between getting to share Jesus and not share Jesus is often the difference between a door being open or closed. As a missionary pastor living in New England I have learned that you use whatever means possible to get those doors open in order to be with the people who seek Jesus. If it takes a dog to unlock the door, find me a dog. We pray that our Comfort Dog will continue to open doors so that we can reach people to bring the Good News: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17

 

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Why a Comfort Dog?

I’m sure there are some people that wonder about a Church using a DOG in ministry. I’m sure because I was one of those people once. I had seen the LCC dog booth at a few conventions through the years and always passed by with a smile and a nod and a thought in the back of my head, “OK. You use the dogs; we’ll do REAL ministry.”

Then April 15th 2013 happened in Boston. I was with my family a block and a half away from the finish line meeting up with my wife’s sister who was stretching and rehydrating after the marathon. The sound of the first bomb caught my attention, the second bomb got us moving, and the sight of a woman running toward us with tears streaming down her face forced us into a steady jog to the car to get out of the city. Not knowing any specifics we got into the car and turned on the radio to hear some news. The first words I caught were about limbs flying through the air. Immediately I needed Comfort.

The next few days brought me into Boston to serve as a helping pastor to our sister congregation First Lutheran. Pastor Dutzmann was in over his head with ministry needs and called me to make a run to the airport to pick up some friends coming to town to help. On Tuesday I arrived at Logan to pick up Rich and Dona Martin and their two friends Luther and Ruthie Comfort Dogs. For the next few days I saw these dogs walk the streets of Boston bringing Comfort and compassion to the crowds. I learned personally that they do REAL ministry that opens the door for the Gospel to be shared in biblically appropriate ways. People met Jesus because these dogs came around.

I got to meet Jesus in a new way because of my time with the Comfort Dogs. He is the God who looks for the broken and hurting and goes to them. He is the God who heads toward suffering not away from it. He is the God who looks with compassion and seeks to bring Comfort. These dogs and their handlers head to the most devastated places in our country in order to bring Comfort. What better thing can I say about them than they remind me of Jesus!

Over the next few days I’ll share some more of the things I learned since the Boston Marathon Bombings, and help you answer the question, “Why a Comfort Dog?” If you want to find out more about Messiah’s ministry and support the cause, please click HERE!

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