She was seven years old, thumbing a ride.
"Where are you going?"
"Away from here."
"Why are you leaving?"
"My grandmother is a demon...sister too."
"How do you know they're demons?"
"Because they say stupid things and are unreasonable."
Her unreasonable grandmother waved from the house. A quick huddle with grandma confirmed that she was keeping four other children in the house while the mothers were away. A morning of generational conflict spurred the hitchhiking. We discovered the traveler dressed in a snow suit and mittens.
"Do you have any food?"
"Where are you going to sleep tonight?"
"I don't know."
"Do you feel safe in your grandmother's home? Is there anything the officer in the driver's seat needs to know?"
If a child is being hurt, chaplains are mandatory reporters. We discovered her after leaving a 911 dispute elsewhere on her grandmother's block. Sometimes demons play roles in the police being called.
Greed, anger, grudges and cruelty impact granddaughters and grandmothers; sisters and parents alike. Finding out if a child is in the clutches of hellish imps is part of the work.
Officers' body cameras run during encounters with the community, no matter how benign. Banter with an elementary schooler could turn into something more serious. Turning my back to her grandmother, we spoke in lower tones. I asked again and the cyclopic eye on his chest watched closely.
"I feel safe."
"Is leaving a warm house, without food as the sun is setting, stupid and unreasonable?"
"Are you a demon?"
"Is your grandmother a demon?"
"It's cold outside. If we give you some stickers, will you put the bags back in the house?"
"Will you turn on the lights and siren too?"
Off she went, dutifully keeping her end of the bargain. Back on the curb, the officer made her day. She sat in the front seat, collected her stickers and saw all the gadgets. A peek in the backseat and quick Q&A did the trick. "I want to be an officer," she whispered before bounding onto the porch and into her grandmother's arms. Watching their reconciling embrace was a welcome switch; not all of the conversations that night had happy endings.
We talked about her on the way to the next call. He had only demonstrated the cruiser to one other child and was glad to get another chance. Listening to his relief reminded me that his profession exposes him to demonic situations.
"Do you believe in demons, officer?"
"Can you tell me more about what you believe?"
With ease, he began to open up about his childhood, marriage and faith. Theological discussions were interspersed between the 911 calls. We met the hitchhiking deal maker before sunset but spoke of faith, struggle and healing all night. He had questions and scripture was offered in response, "Come unto me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt 11:28)
Deep into the ten hour shift, after treating him to dinner, the Lord sparked an opportunity. His hero sandwich was purchased because generous partners give to the chaplaincy. He heard scripture because the Bible is central to the chaplaincy. A listening ear was available because the prayer team intercedes for the chaplaincy. In the wee hours, he said "Something has been bothering me, chaplain. Can we talk about it?"
"Absolutely. What's going on?"
Slowly, he began explaining how the work he does is reinforcing his belief in demons: pain, abuse, death and injury. A trained and listening ear was available during his shift because a team of ministry partners send me with regular generous prayer and financial support. To facilitate his introspection, I asked open ended follow up questions until the end of the shift. When offered prayer, he paused before responding, "Absolutely."
In the parking lot of the Lansing Police Department, we held hands and bowed our heads. Together we took our weariness to Jesus and trusted Him to give us rest.