The Lake Norman community has many unique ministries that serve various parts of the population and that bridge gaps. One organization that you might not yet know well is Peace Officer Ministries.
The Rev. Frank Ruffatto, a resident of Cornelius, became the new executive director this year. How Ruffatto ended up in this position is almost as unusual as the organization he now leads.
For 17 years, Ruffatto was a police detective in Prince George's County, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C. Working in the major crimes division, particularly with children, Ruffatto witnessed unspeakable crimes that could easily rock anyone's faith.
"Lots of kids had spiritual questions about what was going on with them and you could tell that they were struggling to understand things. I was very open with my faith, so many of the officers and social workers would come to me for guidance on how to handle those questions from the kids," Ruffatto said.
Ruffatto is the first to admit that much of what police officers see in their careers can be difficult experiences in juxtaposition with one's faith. "Doing God's work when you are dealing with evil on a daily basis can be quite challenging, and it certainly presents people with a conflict," Ruffatto said.
But, his belief that the evil he witnessed didn't negate or detract from his faith is something Ruffatto wanted to share.. "I saw a need, while working near D.C., for there to be a better, stronger chaplaincy program or some type of service that focused on ministering to police officers," Ruffatto said.
Those experiences weighed heavy on Ruffatto after he retired from that career and contemplated his next move. "I considered counseling with kids, but as I started to get more involved in my church, I was really led to seek out a more ministry-focused life within the church community," Ruffatto said. He decided to attend school at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Prior to completing the program in 2009, he joined Peace Officer Ministries, an organization that provides chaplaincy ministry services around the world.
Ruffatto's initial work with Peace Officer Ministries coincided with the move to his first church, Point of Grace Lutheran Church on North Main Street, Cornelius, where he now serves as pastor. And in January, Ruffatto officially took over the reigns at Peace Officer Ministries, along with his wife, Terri, who serves as the organization's mission support coordinator.
While the ministry turns its attention to serving the police officers in the Lake Norman area, it has already made its mark on law enforcement divisions across the country. After incidents such as the Columbine shootings, the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Virginia Tech shootings, Peace Officer Ministries responded by supporting police officers affected by the events. For officers killed in the line of duty across the country, the organization sends a Bible and a packet about Peace Officers Ministry to fellow officers and families.
Ruffatto believes he's uniquely qualified to serve the spiritual needs of police officers, given his career as a detective and his understanding of the day-to-day grind that officers face. And, his steadfast faith in the midst of what he witnessed served as an example for fellow officers whose faith wavered.
Ruffatto has plans to continue to grow the organization, if funding allows.
"We want to continue to do work that supports our public safety officers and at the same time provides a spiritual resource, a spiritual safe haven, for them," he said. He says the organization is looking into developing a pocket devotional, increasing training programs and raising funds to be able to send a donation to widows in the event of a line-of-duty death.
"Christians believe that God deals with us with mercy and justice. We as a community really need to make sure that we're doing everything we can to help police officers apply the concept of mercy to their families, and apply the justice to their work. The concepts don't contradict each other, but it doesn't mean that it is easy either," Ruffatto said.