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Dr. Juleun Johnson Is a Chaplain Who Ministered To Pulse Survivors and Victims' Families. Here's What He's Learned About Faith in the Five Years Since

Dr. Juleun Johnson
Dr. Juleun Johnson

Dr. Juleun Johnson is the Director of Ministry and Mission at AdventHealth. On the night of the Pulse nightclub shooting 5 years ago, Johnson was a chaplain ministering to victims’ families and survivors. 

He says he continues to minister to some of those families, and staff at the hospital, today. 

WMFE spoke with Johnson about what the shooting taught him about his ministry, healing from tragedy and his faith.

Read the full interview below.

Danielle: So Juleun, repeatedly over the last few days, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has said, 'it's okay not to be okay,' ahead of this five year mark of the shooting. As a chaplain that ministered to survivors and families, I'd like to start by asking how you're doing ahead of this five year mark?

Dr. Johnson: For me, this five year mark is very significant. It brings up a lot of reminders of the experience of not only the Pulse, the Pulse experience itself, but also with those I served.

Danielle: You know, are you leaning on your faith right now, or maybe self care or a combination of the two, because I'd imagine there's a lot that's very triggering. When we think about the stories that might be coming up here this week?

Dr. Johnson: I think that there's a natural combination for me with faith and self care, and to combine them is powerful. And I know that there are many people who may be listening, who may not be persons of faith, or overt persons of faith. So I would offer for me, faith is one of my coping mechanisms. But in addition to my faith, seeking counseling, talking to those who are employee assistants, and then to acknowledge what, what is what is the biggest thing I'm grieving, and then to give myself some grace, because this is the first time I've ever experienced a five year period like this, of having to be a part of this kind of celebration and reminder.

Danielle: Yeah, five years ago, how did you take care of those Pulse survivors and the victims' families? Obviously, not all of them would have shared your faith tradition, or maybe even had any religious belief at all.

Dr. Johnson: For me, having a person, humanity trumps religiosity, especially in moments of crisis. I want to make sure that I connect with someone, people may have a different skin tone or color than me, they may be of a different cultural background, socioeconomic status, but all of that is thrown out of the window when there's a crisis.

Danielle: You know, do you have any stories of serving those families over those days and weeks that stick with you? Any human moments of connection across sometimes seemingly huge differences?

Dr. Johnson: When I was inside of the lobby of the hospital, and how Pulse became a reality, a significant anchor point in my life, was that when I saw family members who came with the names of loved ones, on pieces of paper, and they said, 'is this person here in the hospital? Is this person here in the hospital?' They said, 'We went to another hospital, we went to another facility, and we have not found that person. Can you tell us if that person is alive, or dead, is that person here in the hospital?' And how it became even more a reality for me is when I saw the names of people who had spoken to me in the lobby on television, as those who were victims, and died as a result of the shooting. So for me, it became very real. And from time to time, I still have moments of reflection about that encounter. And when I think of the piece of paper that I had, in my pocket, writing down the names, I still have moments of, you know, my own private moments of reflection. That said, that was quite an experience and something that I'll never forget.

Danielle: Yeah, five years later, are you still assisting some of these families with the healing process? What kind of care would you recommend for them, if they're still struggling? You know, when faith alone isn't enough, sometimes.

Dr. Johnson: That's a great point. Sometimes faith can be the beginning, or the ending point of somebody's journey. So for the people who I still support, which may include staff, may include the families themselves, or other team members. The things that I suggest is reaching out to a counselor, having someone who has a shared experience. Trauma not only creates opportunities for connection between lines of difference, but it also creates a bond of those who served. So I would implore to anybody who's listening today, to go get the help that you need, don't be ashamed to get the help, get the resources in the community, from the onePULSE Foundation, through AdventHealth, or other opportunities. Chaplains are available in multiple places, in multiple disciplines, to assist those who are, who have been silent sufferers. And I think that's probably one of the biggest categories. We note there's 49 victims, but there are tons of people in the nightclub. And there are other people who were still there, in addition to our heroic police and first responders who were there at that moment. So everybody needs to take some time to get the support they need to rebound, to be resilient, and to recover and to celebrate the lives that were lost.

Danielle: After the shooting, you wrote a beautiful article called, "The Thin Line Between Truth And Compassion" in Adventist Today. And in it you talked about responding as a Christian first. And what did you mean by that? And do you still, still kind of subscribe to that belief five years after the shooting?

Dr. Johnson: Yes, a lot of times in religiosity and religious terms, people only look at the external factors, the dogma, the doctrine, the thing that our doctrinal distinctives between one route religious identity, identity, and one religious faith and another. But I believe that my call as a Christian is to do like Jesus did. He looked beyond where people were and he saw their suffering, and he met them with joy and compassion. He always lifted people up, not judging, but encouraging them to live a life of hope, of joy, and peace. And that's my goal. I believe that judgment for any kind of lifestyle difference than my own is ultimately in the hands of God. And I believe that sometimes we can go from having a perspective, to having a preference, to making that dogmatic and applicable to everyone's life. As opposed to for me, I can only say for me, as a Christian gentleman, my goal is to share God's love and compassion to others. Now, if people choose to follow the way that I've walked in, that's fine. If people do not, then that's fine as well, because judgment for me is ultimately in the hands of God. But God has not called any of us to hate, to be to be distractors, but ultimately be disruptors, of what is the cultural norm. Christ came to change and shake up the cultural norms, but he also came to let people know that his his desire was that people would have life and have it more abundantly.

Danielle Prieur is WMFE's education reporter.
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