When George Aren agreed to assist with emergency disaster services (EDS) in the Detroit, Mich., area, he had no idea how much his life would be changed. Now chief chaplain for the Detroit Fire Department, George has been involved in EDS ministry for more than 30 years.
“I grew up with [Lt. Colonel] Clarence Harvey. When he asked me to be an EDS volunteer in 1987, I wasn’t sure what he meant since we don’t have many natural disasters in this area. So I agreed,” said George. “Two nights later Flight 255 went down, killing everyone on board except one little girl. That was my introduction to disaster work.”
In the following years, George, a lifelong Salvationist and soldier at the Dearborn Heights Citadel, Mich., Corps, volunteered to manage canteen service when needed but otherwise focused on his business. It wasn’t long after he sold his company in 1997 that he was offered a part-time position in EDS with the Eastern Michigan Division (EMI).
After serving for two weeks at Ground Zero following the attacks on September 11, 2001, George accepted the position of EDS director for EMI which he held for 10 years. During that time, he formed a close relationship with the Detroit Fire Department and then chief
chaplain Alan McNeeley, a deacon in the Catholic church who had great respect for the work of The Salvation Army. Joining many Salvationists who have served as volunteer chaplains, George became part of a brotherhood of first responders.
“Most of the time, it’s easygoing. We make the rounds to the different firehouses and check in with the guys, make sure they’re doing okay. Some just want light conversation, but others share their struggles,” he said. “We’re there to offer support and comfort.”
The hardest part of the job, says George, is when someone is killed in the line of duty. As chief chaplain, George notifies the family, assists with arrangements and, at times, performs the funeral. It’s a tough job, but one in which George recognizes an eternal significance.
“When somebody has lost their home or a loved one, I think that’s the best time for the Army to show up. It’s an opportunity to minister,” said George. “It’s incredible what the Army can do.”
Though the work is at times difficult and even heart-breaking, such as when George is tasked with debriefing first responders after they’ve worked a crime scene or accident involving a child, he loves the job and the opportunities to share Christ as he provides a shoulder to lean on.
“My faith is what helps me through. It’s a good Christian ministry. We call it a ministry of presence,” he concluded. “It’s difficult at times, but very rewarding.”