Billy Graham chaplain Damaris Scalzi could clearly see the look of fear in her eyes from across the Samaritan’s Purse hospital tent in Los Angeles County, California, where 1 million people have contracted COVID-19 since last spring. Scalzi made her way through the aisles of beds to meet Jenna. Younger than most patients, Jenna was scared of the vicious virus attacking her body. Although she didn’t look like herself, a tattoo still peeked out from her smock.
“I’m a chaplain,” Scalzi introduced herself, talking loudly through her PPE. “I want you to know we’re praying around the clock.”
Jenna teared up—nothing around her had seemed comfortable or familiar.
“This is not a scary place,” Scalzi explained. “It may look different because we’re in a tent, but this is a hospital. People here are praying for you to be restored to health.”
Jenna seemed to hang onto that first conversation. Over the next few days, she began to look for Scalzi every time she entered the tent, and opened up to her about life’s struggles beyond COVID-19.
“She needed a clean plate,” Scalzi recalled from their conversations. “She wanted forgiveness but didn’t know how to get it.”
Scalzi told her how Jesus can take away people’s guilt as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:11-12).
“It’s a free gift you can’t earn,” Scalzi explained. “God can erase your past.”
That’s what Jenna wanted—and knew she needed. A breath of fresh air that goes beyond healed lungs.
As her body recovered, her spirit did, too. Before leaving the hospital ward, Jenna surrendered her life to the Lord. When her fiancé picked her up, she had a Bible in her hand and was a new person.
A social worker, Damaris Scalzi never imagined she’d spend weeks changing hospital linens and offering people prayer amid a pandemic. As a mother, she found herself wanting to care for and comfort others—and it just seemed fitting after watching her husband, Jason, serve as a chaplain since 2016. Many times patients are scared, and they often request a chaplain to pray with them.
“I’m given the opportunity to sit down and reassure them they’re in the best place they can be right now,” Scalzi said. “The staff prays every morning and shift change for the Lord to heal them. It’s been a joy to sit with [patients] and talk with them about the Lord.”
Recalling another conversation with a COVID-19 patient, Scalzi shared how Valeria told her she’d never been apart from her children or family before, but she was stuck fighting for her life in a hospital.
Taking out a Gospel booklet called Steps to Peace With God, Scalzi read it to Valeria from beginning to end. Although Valeria had a religious background, she hadn’t fully trusted Jesus with her life. Talking through that, Scalzi watched fear leave Valeria’s body as she made a decision to follow Christ—and consequently, Valeria was able to fully rest that evening for the first time since her arrival.
“Most of the time, I start a conversation, listen a lot and am very direct in sharing Steps to Peace With God because everyone is lacking it and trying to find it in one way, shape or form,” said Scalzi, who arrived at the hospital on January 12.
In the last few weeks of serving at the California field hospital, she’s seen COVID-19 take its toll on many people. But she’s not disheartened.
“Jesus is supposed to be all things to all men,” Scalzi said. “If we’re never in want, we’re never going to know Him as provider. I believe that’s the opportunity for the here and now.”
Since first deploying to COVID field hospitals in Italy and the Bahamas, God has changed her perspective and shown her just how fragile life is.
“I’m not afraid to share the Gospel; I don’t stop and hesitate anymore,” said Scalzi. “Back home after Italy, I felt so sensitive and raw. I loved on my people. I would share with clerks at the store. We’re chaplains all day, every day.”