While on duty on a cold Friday evening in West Auckland, Constable Lio Kaihau got the message to attend to an incident where a young woman was agitated and threatening to end her life.
As a police officer, Lio was asked to go and see the woman, get her safely to hospital for observation, and make sure she got home securely if given clearance to leave.
But from the moment Lio saw this young woman, he knew immediately there was a lot more going on than met the eye.
‘When I first saw her, she was in a room by herself and feeling very isolated,’ says Lio. ‘I could tell straight away that she was going through something really heavy, but I didn’t know what that was at first because she just avoided me. I tried really hard to talk to her but she just wasn’t willing to speak to me.’
After taking her to hospital, the young female was still reluctant to speak to Lio. Technically speaking, he had fulfilled his duty by accompanying the woman to somewhere she could be examined by a mental health team. But Lio—a committed Christian—felt it couldn’t just end there and that this was an opportunity for someone to be helped by the power of Jesus. He also felt that if he left without using the opportunity to share his faith, he would later regret it.
Lio built up the courage to go into the room the woman was in and speak to her about God. There was an immediate breakthrough when he asked the question, ‘Have you been to church before?’
All of a sudden, the woman started to talk. She told Lio that she had tried to go to church before, but it didn’t go well. She then told him that many people had previously tried to help her through her issues, but whenever she told them what those issues actually were, she would never see or hear from them again.
That’s when Lio got straight to the point. ‘When she told me those things, I simply said to her, “To be honest, the only person that can help you right now is God,” ’ explains the Tongan-born officer.
‘The reason I said that was because I’ve come to understand that with God all things are possible and that only God can help people in certain situations. With this woman thinking about committing suicide, I felt this was definitely one of those situations.’
Realising Lio was genuinely trying to help, the young woman opened up further, telling him more things that were happening to her at the time, including how she saw demons crawling on her bedroom walls nearly every night. She added that she had tried to read her Bible to combat these attacking demons, but that she would wake up in the morning and find her Bible in the toilet, without having the slightest idea of how it got there.
After hearing that, Lio took the initiative. ‘Just knowing the power of prayer, I grabbed her hand and started praying,’ he explains. ‘My prayer was simple, I just asked God to set her free from all the things that she was going through, like the demons, and that in the power of
Jesus’ name that the devil leave her alone. As we were praying, I could feel her body tense up as I think she was really scared at the time, so I’m really thankful that the power of God turned up and set her free.’
Shortly after their prayer, the young woman was cleared to go home by the hospital’s mental health department.
The reason Lio persisted with helping the woman, even though she wasn’t interested in talking to him, is because he believes his godly calling to be a police officer does not just involve ‘police stuff’, but is also about being ready to help people get back on their feet by drawing on the power of Jesus.
‘I really want to help people, and I know that’s God’s calling for me,’ Lio explains. ‘That is one of the main reasons why I joined the Police. Helping people on the street, giving them the right advice and just putting them in the right direction is what I really want to do.
‘With this female, I knew straight away that this was something the devil was doing. Knowing that I’ve got God in me and that she needed God [meant] sharing my faith and helping set her free was something I needed to do. So that’s what pushed me to persist: the power of Jesus to help and the desire to share his love.’
Despite the good outcome, Lio admits the demonic side of things did catch him off guard. ‘Yes, it was a bit of a shock—but I still knew it was real,’ says Lio. ‘She thought a lot of people believed she was nuts and crazy because of the things she was sharing, but I know that demons do exist and that they try to do the harshest things to people, so I believed her and knew I had to pray for her.’
New Zealand Police Christian Support Network co-founder and co-national coordinator Inspector Fiona Prestidge says Lio’s actions on that night were typical of a Christian police officer going beyond their duty to help someone in need.
‘For [Christian police officers], it’s not just about making that arrest and putting in that prosecution file and seeing if they get sent to prison, explains Fiona. ‘It’s also about trying to make a difference in someone’s life and reaching out maybe beyond that. Lio is a fantastic example of what a Christian police officer can do. He did his job, but he knew he had something else to offer that was going to potentially transform that young lady’s life. So, in making that offer, she was open to it, and [Lio’s actions] ended making a significant difference in her life.’
Fiona says Lio’s story wasn’t a one-off. Many officers reach out and offer to pray for people, she says. They also offer help in other ways, a portrayal of God’s love and hope from a follower of Jesus. ‘As a Christian, you know God knows you and loves you, and that gives you a deep well of resource that you can offer other people,’ says Fiona. ‘Whether it’s a victim or the most screwed-up, awful offender, you know that God’s love reaches out into that situation, too.
‘It’s like we carry hope, and I think that’s one of the biggest things a Christian officer can offer as we know there’s always the possibility of redemption. Sure, you’re doing your job—you’re carrying out a search warrant, making an arrest, potentially using force when necessary—but you’re not stereotyping, judging people or writing them off. You’re offering some sense that things could turn out for the better, knowing that God can change people’s lives.’
Despite Christian police officers being able to make a considerable difference in people’s lives, Fiona does admit that working within the Police can hinder people’s walk with God. Shift work deprives police officers of regular connection with other Christians, and friends and families don’t always understand the unique challenges of police life.
This is one of the main reasons the New Zealand Police Christian Support Network was established seven years ago, she explains. There are currently around 550 police officers connected to the network.
‘We set up the network in recognition of some quite distinct challenges of what it’s like to be a Christian in the Police, such as isolation,’ says Fiona. ‘For example, just say you leave Police College and you’re straight into shift work. That can easily keep you away from attending church or home groups and all those things you would have done to help you grow.
‘All of a sudden, shift work can be a barrier, and with you learning this whole new thing of policing and being exposed to all sorts of challenging situations, it can perhaps be a bit of a disconnect with your faith. Also, your church friends, pastor, or your priest may not understand what the challenges of being a cop are, so the idea of the Christian Support Network is to connect people with others who share your faith and understand the real distinctive things about being a cop.’
Although things officially got underway seven years ago, Fiona says it wasn’t until October 2009 that the network started to see real momentum in membership numbers when they held their first national conference. The conference was an instant success as it gave officers from around the country the opportunity to meet other officers who share the same faith as well as to exchange contact details so they could connect with each other.
Since then, four national conferences have been hosted, along with a regional conference in Canterbury in support of colleagues after the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
‘The national conferences are so valuable because it’s not only shift work that isolates [officers] but also New Zealand’s geography,’ says Fiona. ‘We’ve had people come to conferences from real remote police stations where they’re policing by themselves. So the network adds for them what they can’t get on a regular basis back at home.’
Fiona is happy knowing Christian police officers are often going beyond their duty to help people. She says officers will visit victims and offenders at their homes in support, as well as some going that extra mile and visiting inmates in prison. ‘These are examples of the types of acts an officer of faith will do.’
Helping stop a young woman from committing suicide would be an worthwhile chapter in anyone’s book. But there is more to Lio’s tale. After he helped the young woman on that particular Friday night, Lio invited her to go to church the following Sunday with him and his partner. He was pleased when she accepted the invitation. But there were surprises ahead.
‘On the way to church, she was saying all these random things about not wanting to go to church, and just swearing and cursing Jesus,’ says Lio. ‘She also looked really withdrawn and was wearing a beanie, sun glasses and a hoodie.’
When they arrived at church, Lio kept telling himself, ‘As long as we get through those doors, I know everything will be alright’. And he was right! Lio looked over his shoulder once the worship started to find the woman taking off her beanie and sunglasses. That’s when Lio knew God was at work.
The woman responded well to the preaching and was the first person to put her hand up when there was an invitation to follow Jesus at the end of the service. ‘It was amazing to see what the power of God was doing,’ says Lio. ‘She went up to the front with my partner and gave her life to Jesus.’
The pastor of the church continued to pray for the young woman when, in a sudden turn of events, she began swearing and cursing Jesus’ name again. The pastor continued to pray for her, asking God to set her free from whatever was pushing her to do that.
Once she calmed down, Lio took her home. From there, a couple of leaders from the church kept in touch with her for the next month. Lio didn’t see her during that time, but when he did see her again, he was in awe as he saw a completely different person.
‘It was amazing!’ says Lio. ‘She was telling me how she was enjoying life and how she remembered our prayer experience at the hospital. She said she just felt like the power of God came and hit her like a huge tsunami and just swept everything away. She also said about a year after that experience, she hadn’t been visited by any demons or anything like that. She was just happy in God!’
The woman said later of the incident, ‘Police officers are often known for locking people up, but it was Lio who unchained me from that horrible dark place’. Lio protests, explaining that it was God who unchained her. ‘I’m just thankful that God used me to help,’ he says.
As the NZ Police are saying in their recruitment campaign, ‘She saw demons. He saw a way to help.’
By John Lazo-Ron (abridged from War Cry 23 February 2013, p5-7)