As modern technology continues to improve, the farthest reaches of the globe become easier to visit and learn about — and it also becomes easier to hear about the havoc that people can inflict on their fellow man and the devastation that nature sometimes causes. Violence and disasters occur every day all around the world, but the humanitarian work that so many victims are forced to rely on is spread out thinly and often delayed. That problem is what Chazak Rescue is seeking to change.
In September 2021, the nonprofit Chazak Rescue launched the first year of its intensive rescue and response training program. The four-year program equips individuals to bring relief aid to people in crisis situations throughout the world. Chazak Rescue is unique in its approach to providing aid. Rather than setting up long-term operations, the faith-based 501c3 organization’s aim is to be the first on the ground in response to both man-made crises and natural disasters. This way Chazak can provide the most critical, time-sensitive assistance and prepare the way for other organizations to come in and tackle the ongoing rebuilding and restoration.
Chazak’s cadets undergo training to build physical endurance, acquire rescue and survival skills, and develop leadership skills, ensuring that when Chazak teams are deployed to high-risk areas, like war zones, they will be equipped to do the most good possible and can establish stability during upheaval.
“We have a passion to develop young leaders,” Dan Lapp, the chairman of Chazak Rescue, told The Lancaster Patriot. “We feel like one of the biggest problems in a disaster is a lack of leaders who have their head on straight.” Often when disasters occur, people with their own agendas take advantage of the chaos. A skilled leader with a heart to serve can make a radical difference in a dangerous situation, and Chazak Rescue prepares each cadet to be able to lead with experience, wisdom and compassion so they can bring order out of chaos. “We’re going to walk into crisis zones where there are no resources,” Lapp said. “Everybody will be going the other way while we’re running straight to the heart of the disaster.”
As a result of the program’s thorough classroom instruction and on-the-ground experience, anyone who graduates from the program will earn not only first responder certifications but also a college degree. Chazak Rescue considers each person who enrolls in the program as an individual whose holistic development — body, soul and spirit — is an essential part of training. The program offers life coaching, leadership training, personal development, and specialized response skills for operations that take place in high-risk areas, as well as training cadets to military standards of fitness and competence, so that all cadets are fully prepared to enter risky or devastated environments.
The full training program spans four years. The first year handles basic training and various first responder certifications. The second year focuses on skill development and more specialized certifications, and cadets test their skills in the field by traveling to assist other organizations already at work in areas of crisis. At the end of the second year, the cadets’ skills have reached a professional level and the cadets earn an associate degree. In the third year, cadets are deployed as professional rescuers who are sent into crisis situations as first responders, and their training focuses on leadership development. By completing the third year, they earn a bachelor’s degree. In the fourth year, the cadets continue deployment and take courses specific to their individual interests and their chosen specialty. Upon completing the entire program, they earn a master’s degree.
Once cadets graduate from this program, Chazak Rescue can deploy them in specialized teams that bring leadership and humanitarian aid to the places that need it most. The organization’s goal is twofold: to spread hope through the assistance provided by these teams, and to ensure that the current generation is equipped with the skills needed to lead a God-honoring life and, as Psalm 82:3-4 describes, rescue the destitute and the afflicted of the world.
The program’s spiritual guidance and cutting-edge training, provided through world-class organizations, is open to all healthy Christian men and women 18 years old or older, single or married, who have had prior international or cross-cultural missions trip experience, have a high school diploma or a GED certificate, have an up-to-date passport, can run a continuous mile, and can swim 50 feet.
Chazak Rescue’s format is especially geared toward those from an Anabaptist background who admire the work that can be accomplished by the Marines, the Coast Guard, and other military personnel, but who also feel led to finding a peaceful, nonresistant method of bringing aid to the vulnerable and needy of the world. Christians are uniquely suited to helping in crises, but there are few opportunities other than the military to acquire the training needed to take sufficient aid to the front lines.
The interest in going to the front lines in particular stems from the firsthand experiences of Shawn Zimmerman, one of the organization’s founders. When he was in Iraq, working with Iraqi civilians and the U.S. military to offer aid, evacuate people and repair homes during attacks from the Islamic State group (commonly known as ISIS), Zimmerman was not allowed to enter a dangerous area to offer medical aid because he lacked certain certifications. He realized that there was an immense need for certified, highly trained individuals to provide humanitarian aid in high-risk areas, and that realization resulted in the creation of Chazak Rescue.
Since Chazak Rescue is preparing its cadets to face danger in the service of others, the cadets must develop numerous physical and mental skills to carry out their work safely. Lapp explained that the program teaches cadets concrete skills such as emergency medicine, search and rescue, swift-water rescue, how to live in a war zone, and how to deal with collapsed buildings, as well as intangible skills such as how to be a good leader, how to develop one’s character, and how to deal with post-traumatic stress.
Although all of this training goes into forming teams that can be deployed — with a bare-minimum team consisting of a medic, a rope-rescue specialist, a search-and-rescue specialist, a communications specialist and a flood- and swift-water-rescue specialist — the training is also meant to prepare individuals to do more than act as global first responders.
“We want to equip our cadets to be successful wherever they go,” said Riley Eshbach, Chazak’s public relations director. “So no matter what, if they end up working in the rescue realm the rest of their lives, or they just do our training for a year or two, they’re going to come out a very different person and be very effective wherever they go.”
Cadets who graduate the full course and wish to continue working with Chazak can opt to work full-time as Chazak rescue personnel or to serve on reserve duty while pursuing some other career. Being part of the reserves requires individuals to maintain their certifications and their physical fitness, and they must respond to at least two disasters per year.
Chazak Rescue, which is still a fledgling organization, has not yet begun its solo operations, but it has already established channels throughout the world and is constantly receiving notifications about when and where aid is needed. Although many people are aware of the distress in Ukraine, it is easy to overlook how much turmoil exists throughout the entire world. Many other countries face war, insurgencies and unrest and their people are suffering, but they have been ignored by the news and the general public. It is to those locations in particular that Chazak Rescue intends to go as first responders, to establish initial humanitarian aid, then allow other organizations to take over.
Despite being so new, Chazak Rescue is already making a name for itself and engaging in international work. The organization is recruiting individuals who are drawn to adventure and feel called to help their fellow man, but there are still multiple ways for people to support Chazak’s mission of relief aid without having to enter the field. Those who wish to share their expertise as doctors, nurses, first responders, helicopter pilots, technology experts and more can reach out to Chazak Rescue to see how they can get involved. Because the organization is a nonprofit, financial donations are also crucial for Chazak Rescue to be able to carry out its mission, especially since deployment throughout the world is an extremely expensive venture and the cadets’ tuition covers only one-fourth of the cost of training. The organization has put together an advance team who sped through the training program and will be ready any day now to enter the field — but a lack of funds to support an extended deployment stands in the way. Chazak Rescue holds some fundraising events already, but churches, businesses and other organizations that wish to raise awareness for the nonprofit or contribute to the cause are welcome to reach out. For anyone interested in volunteering, donating or becoming a cadet, more information can be found at chazakrescue.org.
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