When everybody else during the Haiti quake was saying, ‘You cannot land in Haiti. You cannot go to Haiti,’ I get a telephone call. It was the Church of Scientology Volunteer Ministers. And the voice on the other end says, ‘I heard you guys are trying to get to Haiti. Take some of your people to Hangar 4, JFK, and look for the Volunteer Ministers in yellow jackets. We’re going to help you get to Haiti.’”
That’s James “Rocky” Robinson, recalling how his medical volunteers made it to Haiti in January 2010, after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake left the island—and particularly the airport—in chaos, stranding Robinson and most other relief forces at the first step: getting there.
A retired captain from the New York Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Service, Robinson heads the Volunteer Ambulance Corps of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn neighborhood.
29.8M people helped by Volunteer Ministers internationally
With the help of the Scientology Volunteer Ministers, “we landed in Port-au-Prince, delivered babies, set fractures and treated thousands of patients together. There was no doubt in my mind that if it wasn’t for some of the Volunteer Ministers being on the scene to assist our medical personnel, those patients would have died,” said Robinson.
The Volunteer Minister program was created by L. Ron Hubbard in the mid-1970s, not as a disaster-relief agency, but to counter the efforts of materialists to undermine the influence of religion in society. “Probably the most critical point of attack on a culture is its religious experience,” Mr. Hubbard wrote. “Where one can destroy or undermine religious institutions then the entire fabric of the society can be quickly subverted or brought to ruin.” As a countermeasure, he charged each Volunteer Minister with using basic Scientology principles “to change conditions for the better—for himself, his family, his groups, friends, associates and for Mankind … by restoring purpose, truth and spiritual values to the lives of others.”
And while disaster relief is far from the Volunteer Ministers’ only work, their “solve it” and “cut-the-red-tape” attitude has established a reputation among other relief agencies.
Dr. Vincent Gennaro, assistant chief of surgery for Project Medishare’s Haiti relief effort, recalls his first encounter with Volunteer Ministers on the island: “One of the guys with the yellow shirts said, ‘Can we help you?’ I looked at him and I said, ‘Well, what can you do?’ He said, ‘We’ll do anything.’”
“No matter what we asked them to do,” continued Gennaro, “carry patients, guard the door, sort supplies, run errands—it didn’t make any difference, they didn’t ask any questions, they just did it.”
1.5M people trained in the technology of Volunteer Ministers
Overall, 350 Volunteer Ministers served in the Haiti relief effort. Coming from 22 nations, they delivered 260,000 pounds of emergency material and medical supplies and became a stable point for other relief efforts. “When the other people came,” says Robinson, “I’ll tell you who they met. They met the guys in yellow jackets.”
“I saw your ministers,” said Raymond Joseph, Haitian ambassador to the United States. “I saw the way they related to people, the way that they brought comfort to those who were in distress, the way they shipped things on their own ships to Haiti. These things we can’t repay. The only thing I can say is thank you for what they’ve done and for coming around Haiti in solidarity.”
Haiti was by no means the first nor the last disaster scene where Volunteer Ministers have worked. Teams now exist in 126 nations and by the latest count they have served at a total of 271 disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005; the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2013; the Gaza Strip war zone in 2014; the earthquake of Nepal in April this year; and many less-known locations, like Galle, a major city on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka. After the area was devastated by the South Asian tsunami of 2004, the city’s mayor said, “There was no other person, no other institution who walked in. The first to walk in was the Scientology volunteer team. And they came with a purpose, in good faith for our people.”
The New York tragedy of 9/11 was not the Volunteer Ministers’ first disaster scene either, but it may have been the first where their work gained international respect. As The New York Times put it a week after the attacks, “Though many religious organizations are supplying assistance for the disaster, few are as well organized as the Scientologists, or as evident at the scene. When many volunteers were asked to clear out over the weekend, the Scientologists were allowed to stay, working alongside groups like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.”
The first Volunteer Ministers arrived at Ground Zero within hours of the attacks. “It was a nightmare,” said Beth Akiyama, one of the first to arrive. “By the end of the first day, the rescue workers would not stop searching, hoping to still find people alive, but they were exhausted. Our job became caring for them.”
Over the next five weeks, more than 800 Volunteer Ministers came to help. In addition to providing meals and basic support services, they also helped the rescue workers with Scientology “Assists”—techniques developed by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard that address the emotional and spiritual factors related to injuries and illnesses, and are equally effective in dealing with stress, fatigue and shock. (See “Tools for Life.”)
1,156 partner organizations working with the Volunteer Ministers internationally
When it was over, the Volunteer Ministers were awarded the New York Fire Department’s Medal of Valor and received acknowledgements from many officials and civic leaders. “The Volunteer Ministers worked with great energy and great compassion at Ground Zero, helping to ease the physical burdens and mental strains of the rescue workers,” said Joseph Esposito, New York Police Department Chief, three months later. “The organization, the caring, and the dedication of your Volunteer Ministers were exceptional, very much appreciated, and will long be remembered by those who received their help. I cannot thank the volunteers enough.”
Or, as an unidentified NYPD street cop recorded at the time put it, “We kind of get a lot of the credit, but I think a lot of the credit has to go to the people on the outskirts, such as the Scientology Ministers that provided us with comfort while we were down there, at a time when we needed it, you know, probably more than most people understand or realize.”
5.59M miles traveled in the name of help
The full range of skills available to Volunteer Ministers is contained in 19 separate study courses, which teach how to relieve suffering and trauma, resolve problems, handle crises and mend relationships, whether between individuals, among families, or in much larger social spheres.
As of July 11, the same training is now available to anyone at the new Volunteer Ministers Center opened at 101 N. Fort Harrison Avenue in downtown Clearwater. The Center is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and Volunteer Ministers are on hand to answer questions and offer what has been described as “spiritual first aid.” There are informational displays and audiovisual exhibits that visitors may peruse at their leisure. There is a study room where people can enroll without charge in any of the 19 training courses. And experienced Volunteer Ministers are available to give Assists and teach others how to use them to help others.
101 N. Fort Harrison Ave.
Clearwater, FL 35755
In opening the Center, David Miscavige, Scientology’s ecclesiastical leader, said: “In times of disaster, whether affecting whole populations or a single household, our Volunteer Ministers prove on a daily basis that ‘something can be done about it.’ We do not discriminate. We do not judge. All we care to do is help. And, as demonstrated time and again, we deliver that help anywhere and everywhere. So, yes, that’s our new headquarters for Volunteer Ministers right here in the heart of Clearwater, for the benefit of anyone and everyone.”