by Ross Hickling
An old friend of mine, Bill Worrell, asked me to share some thoughts about the interface between my Christian faith and my work life in support of his work in engaging culture with the Christian faith. Before sharing my perspective on this topic, I wanted to give you a little background about myself. I grew up in the Kempsville area of Virginia Beach and worked in law enforcement for 26 years before retiring in January of 2014. My first post was with the Portsmouth Police Department where I worked for a little over five years with an emphasis in drug investigations and SWAT duties. After leaving the Portsmouth Police Department, I spent just shy of twenty-one years with the U.S. Marshals Service. A primary emphasis of my career with the USMS was working fugitive investigations. During my tenure with the Marshals Service, I felt led to prepare for ministry so during the last ten years with the USMS and shortly after I retired, I attended several regionally accredited seminaries earning several advanced degrees in religion and Christian apologetics (defending the Christian faith through scholarship). I have just started a non-profit organization named “Shield Your Faith” with the objective of sharing the great reasons for faith in Jesus Christ through the study, of history, philosophy, logic, etc (www.shieldyourfaith.org).
Especially when I was working narcotics investigations with the police department, friends and colleagues asked me, “How can you work narcotics and be a Christian at the same time?” I guess they thought that working a job that brought you into contact with the underbelly of society would cause one to compromise one’s principles. However, I never viewed my duties in law enforcement from this perspective. Rather, it was/is my opinion that one’s faith will and should influence their work life no matter what field of endeavor one works in. So with this guiding principle in mind, I will share with you some experiences on how my faith influenced my professional life.
At the very outset of this time we will share together in print, I wanted to say that I have made plenty of mistakes in my career as a law enforcement investigator. So, anything I write here will not be from the perspective of a person who was the ideal or perfect investigator. Rather, the words typed here will be from someone who erred in thought and deed everyday. However in spite of my fallen nature, God used me to influence those around me for good and to be effective in my work.
In discussing how my faith informed my perception of being a successful investigator, I have to say the central ethic that I almost always kept in mind was Colossians 3:23 which states, “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart as working for the Lord, not for human masters (NIV).” My interpretation of this verse is that my labor is an act of worship to God. So when I go to work, I worship him through my work product and the way that I interact with others. Even if I don’t get any recognition for what I have done, God sees my heart attitude and how hard I have worked. However, every now and again it was easy for me to lose sight of this motivational principle when my vanity obscured my spiritual discernment. The problem was not with any other person giving me the credit I may have been due. Rather, the problem was with me because I lost sight of the fact that my motivation behind performing with excellence was to glorify God as an act of worship/love. I am grateful that in these times of selfish disappointment, God would refocus my motivation for excellence back to Himself.
What a shock it was for me to go from my suburban existence as a young man whose social life centered on church activities to my profession that immersed me in an environment of drugs/vice/crime. Before entering law enforcement, the closest that I got to this world was visiting prisoners in order to minister to them. So, it was indeed an abrupt change of course to go from a sheltered environment to this career. But, how could a Christian how could be productive in this sort of environment? As I settled in to my role as a narcotics detective and SWAT operative, the aforementioned verse helped me to keep my focus on the task at hand. It was my job to investigate drug crimes so I worked at being the best investigator that I could be for His glory. This meant dedicating myself to learning the job from investigators in the unit who were senior to me and spending the time necessary to perfect my craft.
As I gained skill in ferreting out drug violators, I committed myself to not being “that guy” who hung around the office as long as possible. I would not milk the clock trying to skate by until the end of the shift. Rather, when there was any opportunity to hit the street and come up with drug arrests, I would tackle this mission with energy and enthusiasm as my offering to God. Additionally, if there was any mission that needed assistance, I made it known to all that I would be available to help them in whatever capacity they needed whether it was for additional manpower, for surveillance, or for mundane tasks. An example of this enthusiasm for accomplishing my mission was when working for a specialized unit with the police department, our unit from time to time would be pulled off our normal street narcotics/SWAT duties and detailed to traffic enforcement. However, knowing that the drug problem was severe in several neighborhoods, the officers in our unit would drive by these high crime areas to see if the dealers were selling on the street. So, when getting near time to get off duty, the investigators of our unit would conduct drive by surveillances of these hot spots on the way back into headquarters instead of conveniently securing our gear and going home.
On several occasions, after working a full shift of directed traffic enforcement duties, investigators from our unit would make arrests of drug dealers during the aforementioned drive by surveillances. I remember one day in particular “The Hole” was very active. This was a cul-de-sac located in a high crime area that would swarm with drug buyers and sellers after the supply of cocaine and heroin had arrived. On one day when I was finishing up my traffic assignment, I was returning to headquarters and I made sure to travel past this high drug area. Sure enough there was a crowd in “The Hole.” So, I drove into the area and exited my vehicle. A lot of street drug work is reading body language and how people react to your presence. So on this day, I was scanning the now dispersing crowd for any tell tale clue that there were drugs near. While most of the crowd dispersed, there were several that were lingering to see what I would do. This was my clue that there were still drugs out on the street. I searched on my own under trash and in downspouts, places where I knew narcotics were normally stashed to no avail. Finally, a concerned citizen walked past me and whispered, “check by the trash can.” Sure enough after several more moments of searching there was the stash, thousands of dollars of crack cocaine and heroin hidden near the trashcan. Even though no arrest was made, I was able to get the drugs off of the street that day. I made sure to let those who lingered know that I had found their drug supply!
When I left the police department and began working for the Marshals Service, I continued to press on to become the best investigator that I could be. With a background in special tactics and narcotics investigations, I naturally gravitated to the fugitive section even though there was an array of duties within the Marshals Service to be performed. In my tenure as a Marshals Service investigator, I would say that I had a successful career even though as I stated before I made many mistakes. A logical question to ask at this juncture is “What makes a successful investigator?” This question naturally leads to my second point on interacting with your workmates. In addition to excelling in one’s work to the glory of God, there is a clear emphasis in Scripture about bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2; Matt. 11:30) and preferring another person’s interests before your own (Romans 12:10). In being concerned for others, a Christian can greatly influence the work culture that he functions in everyday. If you sacrifice your time and energy to support your workmates, there will be a synergistic effect on the productivity of your office.
An example of sacrificing time and energies for my partners in the Marshals Service was when after-hours “hot leads” would come in on cases that your other partners had responsibility for. A partner who was the lead investigator on the case could not go on the street by himself. Rather, he would need to assemble a team to conduct surveillance or to approach a target address. When requested to assist other investigators with these cases or even before they would ask for assistance, I always tried to make myself available no matter the personal inconvenience to me. These cases would often go for days with multiple times of surveillance and other investigative activities. But without a self-sacrificing ethos, successful conclusions to these sensitive investigations would be greatly diminished. Another positive effect of preferring others over oneself is that your partners will see that you have their best interest in mind professionally and it has been my experience that they will reciprocate in making themselves available for your work interests as well. In strongly supporting your co-worker, not only will the statistical numbers increase but so will the relationships between all of the staff members. So, the Biblical ethic of putting the needs of another person before your own has profound ramifications in the workplace.
Another, aspect of working with your partner is to realize that you are flawed and that when you make a mistake, you should try to make amends for what you have done (Matt. 5:23). In addition to asking for forgiveness for your own shortcomings, it is vitally important to seek reconciliation when your partner may have wronged you (Col. 3:13). In doing this, you foster an atmosphere of grace as we all make mistakes or have bad attitudes from time to time. Even so, there will be times when your partner will not be amenable to reconciliation. However, always being open to a restored relationship will positively impact your office as well as people realize that you bear no ill will toward your workmate.
There will also be times when your partners will face personal crises. For those you work with, you will truly be the hands and feet of Jesus if you support them when they are suffering. In supporting your partner through tough times, the Holy Spirit can use you to aid your partner in getting back to some sense of normalcy. By merely being there to pray and stand with your friend, you can make a tremendous impact on them. I remember when working with the USMS Critical Incident Response Team, I responded to New York City to support a particular family who had tragically lost a family member. I remember that the fact that I traveled from Virginia where I lived at the time to New York was really important to this family. I do not really remember saying anything profound or performing some sort of great act but it was clear that my presence and my prayers for this family were quite important. Humorously, as I was saying goodbye to the family members, this was the first time that I was kissed on the cheek by a man that was not my close relative (ha).
Another example of standing with a person in their time of crises is when I responded to Pennsylvania with a partner to aid a deputy and his family in the aftermath of a nearly fatal traffic accident. I remember praying for the deputy for most of the six-hour drive up to PA. When we got there, we aided the family in practical ways as they grappled with almost losing their loved one. I am happy to say that inexplicably, the deputy survived the accident and has returned to full duty. We are still in contact today even after my retirement. In addition to my efforts in this regard, I have also been the recipient of the care of my workmates after the deaths of my mother and brother in recent years. Several deputies were very important in supporting me through these trying times. It was in these times of brokenness that I realized just how meaningful the thoughtful gestures and words of others can be. So, through following the example of Christ who bore our burdens completely through his death on the cross, we can help lift the load that our partner is carrying (Galatians 6:2) if we would be willing to invest our hearts and our time in our work partners.
It seems that my word count maximum is getting near so I should start concluding. In summation, I wanted to say that my faith in Jesus Christ has been central to my success as a law enforcement investigator over my twenty-six year career. Not only has the Bible inspired me with my core work ethic, but it has also provided me with guidance on how I should relate to my partners on a daily basis. Even as I strove to perform at an optimal level, at the core of my striving for personal excellence in the workplace was focusing on the success and well being of those I worked with shoulder-to-shoulder everyday. Moreover, when I messed up, the Bible compelled me to seek forgiveness from the person that I had wronged. In turn, when I was wronged the Bible instructed me to seek for reconciliation. When my partner was grieving, I followed Christ’s example to bear their burdens. In turn, I was comforted when my partners became the hands and feet of Jesus to me. In short, it is obvious to me that I experienced the blessing of God on my law enforcement career as he gave me motivation to excel, guidance to navigate the difficulties that came from time to time, and the ability to bear the burdens of my partners.
Ross Hickling, MA
U.S. Marshals Service, Retired
Founder, Shield Your Faith