A near tragedy providing an up-close encounter with firefighters gradually evolved into a different direction for pastor Frank Mercer’s ministry. The Fayetteville, Georgia, pastor served Rolling Hills Baptist Church at the time.
Several years ago, in the middle of the night, the home’s fire alarm roused the Mercer family, who found their back porch engulfed in flames. If they had stayed in their home a few more minutes, they would have perished, Mercer was informed. Mercer instantly gained deeper admiration for these often-unsung heroes.
“That burning deck became my burning bush because God spoke out of that experience,” Mercer shared. “I had a compelling urge to show appreciation to the fire department and the 911 center. They were there for me, and I wanted to be there for them.”
One thing led to another, and Mercer began firechaplain.org, serving the church while building his ministry to public safety personnel.
Mercer already led the Southern Baptist congregation to take a creative approach to ministry. In 2010, Mercer guided the church to sell their property and become “a church without walls.” They worshipped in local movie theaters and redirected their focus to go where people are rather than expecting people to come to them.
“More than 50 percent of our budget went into a building we were using less than 10 percent of the week and that didn’t make sense. We could invest in ministry and people or maintenance and mortgages.”
The church family served Jesus by serving others across the street and across the world, initiating and supporting various mission endeavors.
The growing fire chaplaincy was a natural local ministry. Mercer served both entities as long as he could, and on Easter Sunday, 2022, Rolling Hills “graduated,” commissioning members to take their “infectious mentality of serving Jesus” into other churches. Mercer went full-time as lead chaplain for 4Heroes, his renamed non-profit, serving the fire department, local law enforcement, EMS, and 911 employees. He recently added the county Marshal's office.
Mercer’s week includes prayer time at the fire department headquarters, sitting in department meetings, traveling to neighboring Tyrone for a Bible study with their police department, then lunch with the fire command staff before visiting the nine county fire stations, doing ride-alongs with police officers, or visiting the night shift at the 911 center. And, of course, responding to calls.
Recently, a horrific wreck occurred south of Fayetteville when a driver ran a stop sign, entered oncoming traffic on a major highway, and was smashed by a large truck. The driver was killed.
When Mercer arrived, the entire road was blocked by emergency vehicles and law enforcement. He asked the battalion chief where he was needed, and the chief told him to return to Fire Station 10 to meet the paramedic and EMT driver charged with accessing the driver who died. This was not the paramedic’s first wreck, but this one was particularly troubling. The paramedic looked his chaplain in the eye and asked, “Why?”
What the man meant was, “Why does this happen? Why is a wife left without her husband? Why are children orphaned?”
Mercer listened, and then gently moved the question from “Why?” to “Who?”
Who can help me when my heart is torn? Who can help me live when I’m surrounded by sickness and death day after day? Who can bring peace to this situation? And he points them to Jesus.
“As these heroes are taking care of us, they are exposed to all sorts of trauma. They see things they can’t unsee. They feel things they can’t un-feel. I try to be there for them and bring them and their families spiritual and emotional support.”
Fire Department Chief Jeff Hill fully embraces this ministry. “We’ve had chaplains in the past that showed up to say the blessing over Thanksgiving dinner and then we don’t see them. Every day, every week, Frank shows up and is highly involved in our people’s lives and in their family’s life. He’s an invaluable asset for me personally and for our department.”
What is the most satisfying part of his ministry? “Walking into a station when a responder is struggling and you encourage them and help them connect with the help they need, and then weeks pass, and you see them again and they are back on track... that’s rewarding.”
Even heroes need a helping hand, and Frank Mercer is there to extend his.