For first responders, job stress can lead to alcoholism and divorce rates nearly 40 percent higher than other vocations. One Houston Police officer is devoting his life to mentoring young officers so that Christ can lead them to higher ground before the real stresses of a law enforcement career begin.
Houston’s First member René Rivera wasn’t always a Houston Police officer, but he’s had a heart for rescuing people since his preteen years after God planted a seed for ministry. Service and a love for the Lord came almost effortlessly for René. His grandfather was a pastor, and his mother, a preacher’s kid, laid a foundation of faithfulness to God and service to others.
Though René worked in international sales for 11 years at Hewlett-Packard (HP), when the events of September 11, 2001, unfolded, his love of country prompted him to consider a career change. “I had just picked up a friend from the airport and we heard that the planes hit the World Trade Center,” he said. “The next day I told my wife Eleanor I wanted to join the Armed Forces. We had our babies, David and Jack, at home, so she said the timing wasn’t right.”
Since joining Houston’s First 20 years ago, he has been active in ministry in many ways: serving in the Singles ministry; as a singer for The Gathering, the genesis of band-led worship services at Houston’s First; and as part-time staff in Men’s Ministry, among other positions.
“I have a passion for seeing men get right with God,” said René. “God has put men from all walks of life, police officers, soldiers and the like, in my path during men’s events. They seem drawn to me for counsel, so I befriend them and have tried to help them manage their lives when they have felt under assault.” For the past 17 years, René has met regularly each Wednesday morning at 6 am for breakfast and prayer with his accountability partners Mark Miranda, Allen O’Neal and Ken Tekell. Over the years, as many as nine men have met together at the breakfast meetings, but the four are steadfast in their commitment to be the iron that sharpens iron for their brothers in Christ. One day over breakfast, a friend encouraged René to go into police work.
The door was closing on René’s career at HP and a full-time staff position in men’s ministry at Houston’s First had been created with him in mind, but an invitation to a birthday party at his next door neighbor’s house changed everything. A recruiter from the Houston Police Department was also a party guest, and he extended an invitation for René to stop by the Police Academy for an upcoming open house. He signed on the dotted line and became an HPD cadet just 10 days after being laid off from HP. At age 42, and the oldest in his class, he became president of his cadet class and even gave a speech at the commencement ceremony.
“I have the greatest job in the whole world,” said René, who has been on patrol at the Westside Command Station the past four years. A year-and-a-half ago, God opened a door for René to become a Field Training Instructor to young HPD officers, many who are transitioning from civilian to officer, which can be daunting. Worry about the dangers of the job is never far from the minds of officers, most especially younger ones. “I got into police work as a ministry, mostly to young men and women who may be 21 years old and in their first job,” said René. “These guys want to know how to do life, and I teach them how to be cops, and I reach out to them before their lives become wrecked.”
While the Houston Police Department has implemented many safety measures for officers and citizen organizations have purchased specialty equipment to further support and protect officers, incidents do happen, and René has not escaped injury.
“I’ve almost been killed twice,” he said. “During my evaluation to become a police officer, my partner and I chased a speeding car into a residential neighborhood in Alief. He was blowing through red lights and stop signs and we cornered him in a cul-de-sac. As I opened the passenger side door and began stepping out of the patrol car, the vehicle sped toward us, smashing into my open door and throwing me back inside into the center console. I realized I had pulled my leg back inside just in time.”
Another time, René fought a man in a stairwell who had been beating up his stepson. René and other officers overpowered the man, but René’s shoulder was dislocated, a rib cracked, and he was taken to the hospital. “I learned sometime after the trial that the same man had viciously raped a woman four years earlier,” he said. “He was put in prison, and now the woman no longer has to live in fear of her rapist coming back to hurt her. There are times God allows our lives to be in danger, but now the guy is off the streets.”
As a blogger on the topics of leadership and accountability, René has shared his experiences in uniform as well as the many lessons God has taught him throughout his personal life. Rookies and other young officers are the beneficiaries of his godly and sometimes gritty wisdom. “My life verse is Jeremiah 33:3, ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know,’” said René.
Being in God’s word keeps him on solid ground and feeds his desire to be accountable to God, to his family and the guys in his prayer group. “I can’t imagine doing this job without God’s protection because you never know who you’re going to run into,” said René. “We all need watchmen on the wall (Isaiah 62:6) to pray for us.”