As a crisis counselor, Jeff Gorter has responded to some of the most horrific Tragedies: 9/11, Sandy Hook, the Orlando nightclub shooting, and Hurricane Katrina. But he knows that he responds simply as a vessel of Christ.
Days after the Twin Towers fell to the ground, Jeff Gorter, who graduated in ’82, found himself on a plane to a still smoldering New York City, and on a trip that would forever change the trajectory of his career. Jeff had been a crisis counselor for years, but he had never experienced a tragedy of such great scale and with such profound counseling needs. However, his compassion was stirred after the horrific scenes of 9/11, so when a colleague called him to discuss what they might do to help, he readily agreed to the deployment to see what God would do.
For crisis response counselors, their work is usually just getting started when the tragedy has ended. Once the rubble settles or the shooting stops, the cameras turn their attention to the next story, and the often very long process of healing and recovery begins for the victims. The emotional demands of such work could be crippling apart from the grace of God, but Jeff Gorter knows that he responds as a vessel.
“I’m often deployed to the scene with no fixed idea what I’m going to say. It can be overwhelming to think about what these people have just gone through. But, then I remember that it’s not me who is going to do anything…any comfort or healing doesn’t originate from me. While the Lord has given me the education and skills to do this work, often my job is to just to be present and let God work through me,” said Jeff.
While only a vessel, Jeff is a vessel with extensive experience and training, as well as a calling for his life that he can trace back to his days at Timothy. Jeff recalls, “Timothy instilled in me a deep sense of compassion and a profound understanding that there IS a God…and it isn’t me. I not only learned about, but personally experienced really challenging situations that taught me the call of the Christian life is to show the compassion of Christ to others.”
So when time came for him to graduate, he wanted more of the kind of education that he had received as a student at Timothy that would equip him to live out the desire to help others. This led him to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for his BA in Psychology and Western Michigan University for his MSW in Social Work.
The emotional demands on crisis response counselors can be crippling apart from the grace of God.
For 20 years, Jeff helped people, especially teens, struggling with everything from addiction and thoughts of suicide to matters of gender identity, and much more. Working as a counselor in a private practice gave him extensive experience in counseling individuals through a variety of challenges and prepared him well for another need of his Grand Rapids community, crisis response.
While similar in its counseling application, crisis response has unique challenges and demands that can make the work particularly intense and emotionally draining. Outside of the boundaries of office work and hours, crisis counselors stand ready to respond in a moment’s notice and often have to bring their “office” to the patient in need. While Jeff enjoyed and found that God had prepared him well to be a crisis counselor, 9/11 took his experience — and his faith — to a whole new level. As he experienced God’s work through him in New York, he decided to move in a direction that would allow him more work responding to larger crises, which led him to R3 Continuum.
R3 works with companies who have employees that have been involved in a crisis situations, providing counseling services to those in need. The company does this over 1,200 times a month for people across the United States, and sometimes internationally. Crises can include everything from massive layoffs, to natural disasters, workplace violence, and much more. Some of the better-known crises that Jeff has responded to directly have included Virginia Tech, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Las Vegas Shooting.
Not too long after 9/11, Jeff responded to the Hurricane Katrina crisis.
“After Katrina, I remember a woman who I had counseled coming up to me.
“Thank you so much,” the woman said.
I asked her back, “What did I say?” I asked her that because I knew that in my meeting with her I had hardly said anything. I’ll never forget the words that she said to me next.
She told me, “You didn’t say anything, but when you looked at me, you had hope in your eyes.”
I recognized at that moment that it wasn’t me that she saw. She saw Christ.”
While Jeff’s work does not permit him to speak about matters of faith unless asked, he does recall many times in which he has been able to share the love of God with more than just actions. One particular event was the Orlando nightclub shooting.
“A young woman, came to see me after the event to process what had happened and what it all meant,” Jeff recalls. “This young woman said that she was no longer accepted by her family or her church. In tears, she told me how she wished that she could turn to God in this time of pain, but she said that she didn’t think God would accept her prayers. In a moment where I might normally have been at a loss for words, I felt prompted to reassure her that ’every tear is a prayer, and God hears them all.’”
The depth of pain and emotion his patients are often experience require resources beyond himself. While each situation comes with its own challenges, one of the hardest for Jeff was the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary.
“Sandy Hook was the hardest experience for me,” Jeff explains. “All of those kids. But, what I learned at Timothy many years ago became profoundly real in that time. It’s not about me. I should not be arrogant enough to think that I have, in and of myself, what I need to help these people. So, my prayer was, ’may they be your words and not mine, Lord.’”
Jeff recognizes that it’s not just Christian education, in general, that has given him the resources he needs to do his work. The support of his wife, three children, and close friendships — many of them formed at Timothy — are indispensable to sustaining him. Being part of a family, a community, a country that is resilient is a daily inspiration. Ultimately, Jeff believes that it’s Timothy’s unique emphasis on our call as Christ’s followers to not fight society, but to redeem it. This empowers him to do his work with compassion, confidence, excellence, and humility.
At 54, Jeff has a long and already extensive résumé of counseling experience behind him. However, Jeff still credits much of what he is able to do, today, to the foundation that was built at an earlier age at Timothy. Today, he says, “I feel that I am not only empowered to talk, but prepared to respond in these situations, because of what Timothy has given me.”