Ayal Lindeman has lost count of all the times he has helped people in distress. As a trained emergency medical technician for nearly a quarter of a century, he assisted victims of a superstorm that clobbered 13 U.S. states from Maine to Florida in 1993. Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Lindeman spent weeks providing aid to emergency workers at Ground Zero, the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. In 2010, he assisted survivors of a magnitude-7.0 earthquake that killed 300,000 people in Haiti. And in 2013 he went thrice to the Philippines after one of the most cataclysmic storms on record devastated large parts of the Southeast Asian nation.
Lindeman, who lives in upstate New York, is a member of the Church of Scientology Volunteer Ministers Program, a remarkable team of men and women who offer voluntary humanitarian help around the globe. Over the years, “VMs,” as Volunteer Ministers are often referred to, have helped some 30 million people in 126 nations, including in some 200 major disaster sites.
While VMs help educate the underprivileged, heal troubled marriages and rescue people from drug abuse, what they’re most renowned for is providing emergency relief to victims of major calamities, whether natural or man-made.
When this past April’s earthquake in Ecuador killed more than 550 people, leaving some 4,000 injured and 10,000 homeless, VMs worked with local emergency personnel to distribute clothes, food, water and other essential goods. The VMs also helped alleviate the physical pain of survivors and hasten their recovery through “assist technology,” a range of simple and effective techniques developed by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Mr. Hubbard launched the Volunteer Ministers Program in 1976—four decades ago—as part of a broad humanitarian effort aimed at addressing the problems of a society in which declining spiritual values were giving rise to drug use and violence.
At the program’s core is The Scientology Handbook, a wide-ranging manual of the fundamentals of Scientology based on Mr. Hubbard’s writings and available free online at www.volunteerministers.org. The manual’s 19 chapters provide practical solutions to real-life problems. Covering everything from improving communications skills to the resolution of conflicts, the handbook is a master guide to relieving all manner of crises, whether personal, within families or among nations.
Within the United States, Volunteer Minister activities include the Churches of Scientology Disaster Response (CSDR). Headquartered in Washington, D.C., CSDR has grown remarkably since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, expanding from what was previously a number of individuals and groups into a full-fledged organization with regional offices around the country, according to CSDR National Director Sue Taylor.
She and CSDR Deputy National Director Joava Good manage the group’s activities as they relate to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD). A network of 56 faith-based, community-oriented and other nonprofit organizations across the U.S., NVOAD was founded in 1970 in the wake of Hurricane Camille by seven faith-based organizations.
Since CSDR became a member of NVOAD in 2006, the Church’s Volunteer Ministers have become an integral part of the disaster response system on a national level, explained Taylor. And because NVOAD encourages its member organizations to cooperate, collaborate, communicate and coordinate activities, she added, the Church’s Volunteer Ministers routinely visit disaster zones where large organizations such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way are also present.
Tasked with providing solutions to real world problems, Volunteer Ministers have helped increase the resilience of individuals and communities everywhere they have gone.
For example, when several cities in Alabama were devastated by what a meteorologist described as a “history-making tornado outbreak” in 2011, Volunteer Ministers worked in close cooperation with NVOAD’s disaster management center to quickly determine which areas needed the most help.
In addition to disaster-relief activities, Scientology Volunteer Ministers conduct Cavalcades and Goodwill Tours. Both are expositions held in distinctive, bright-yellow tents in the world’s major metropolises as well as in remote regions such as Siberia, the Amazon Basin and the Australian Outback. While Cavalcades offer assistance and training annually to thousands of people worldwide, Goodwill Tours bring VMs to new “pioneer” areas where the Church previously hasn’t had a presence and where genuine help is in dire demand.
Cavalcades were launched in 2004 in the U.S., Latin America, Canada, Europe, Africa and Australia. Goodwill Tours began the following year, traveling to Africa, Latin America, Central Europe, South Pacific and Southeast Asia, not to mention expeditions throughout Russia and India that are still underway.
Last year, an eye-catching Cavalcade spanned 26 consecutive days in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. In Charles Square, between a metro station and two tram stops in the heart of City District Prague 2, Volunteer Ministers set up a 10,000-square-foot tent next to a statue of Eliška Krásnohorská, a Czech feminist author and patriot who died in 1926. The tent had a wrap-around banner that read: “Something can be done about it,” which is the VM motto.
More than 3,500 people attended the Cavalcade in Prague on the first day alone. Attendees listened to public lectures on different subjects from The Scientology Handbook. Topics included how to enhance the ability to study, improving interpersonal relationships, resolving family conflicts and boosting performance at work.
Some 600 people also took advantage of assists offered by the VMs. One of the methods, known as a “locational assist,” helps direct the attention of someone suffering from trauma-induced shock to different objects in the environment. “The idea is to direct the person to what’s happening around them instead of being stuck in the past,” one of the VMs explained. Additionally, VMs train others to do assists so they are prepared to help in the event of an emergency or any everyday accident.
In 2007, the VM program launched so-called “Extreme Tours.” These are, essentially, Goodwill Tours, except for the fact that they are to far-flung areas of the world. Three such tours have been underway over the past nine years in North Africa, the Amazon region of Latin America and the Australian Outback.
This past April, an Extreme Tour through Brazil, Colombia and Peru renewed contact with eight indigenous communities for the seventh consecutive year. Led by Daniel González, a resident of Mexico City, a team of VMs traveled by air, in boats and on foot to assist the native population in the region. (Read the story about VM Extreme Tours to the Amazon.)
Around the world, as many as 8,000 people participated in Goodwill Tour events in 2015. “It was a great experience,” recalled José Velazquez, a Scientologist with the tours in Guatemala. “The Goodwill Tours helped people take their attention away from problems and gave them tools to improve their lives.”
Last October, not long after the Latin American Goodwill Tour ended, a devastating mudslide triggered by torrential rains killed 161 people in an area bordering Guatemala City. Velazquez wasted little time in setting up a yellow tent in the neighborhood of El Cambray Dos, just 800 meters from a disaster area that had been swallowed up by mud.
They worked with members of Los Topos, a highly skilled team of Mexican search-and-rescue specialists affiliated with Volunteer Ministers, who descended 40 feet underground through narrow shafts to reach the roofs of homes buried under thousands of tons of earth. Los Topos members were among the first search-and-rescue teams in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, when a magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit the region in April 2015. Read the story on VM relief efforts following last year’s devastating earthquake in Nepal.
“Religion,” Mr. Hubbard remarked in the opening pages of The Scientology Handbook, “is the first sense of community.” And it’s precisely the care and compassion with which people treat others that make humans spiritual beings rather than objects.
“Government is not designed to do this work, but faith groups are,” explained Sue Taylor, referring to the Volunteer Ministers campaign. “They are mandated by their faith to reach out and help.”