Annual Training: Prayer, Baptism, and a new Chaplain Guidon

By Chaplain Jason Dong, Oregon Army National Guard

 

Prayer Summit:

During Annual Training I offered daily morning prayer on a hill in the middle of our Brigade Support Area (BSA).  Every morning I would stand there at 0600.  Sometimes I would have one or two Soldiers come up to pray and some mornings there were none.  However, it was right during breakfast where all the Soldiers had to walk by to get their food.  On the last day I thought to myself, “No one will show up today because everyone’s focused on packing up and getting out of here.”  However, I was convicted that I needed to be faithful until the end and be where I said I would be.  As I approached the hill I noticed an unusually large gathering at the foot of the hill and figured they were standing in line for chow.

As I ascended the hill, to my amazement they all began to follow me.  When we reached the top 81 Soldiers lined the hilltop with the sunrise as the backdrop.  It was a moving sight.  While they may not have joined me the other days they showed up to express their gratitude (with prompting from the Command Sergeant Major (CSM)) for my daily presence on the hill.  I trust it served as a visual reminder of God’s presence and pointed others to Him.

Baptism:

During Annual Training I was making my rounds when Specialist (SPC) Jacinto pulled me aside.  He wanted to talk about spiritual things and felt the need to draw closer to God.  He desired to have peace with God and with his family.  I could tell he had an open heart and through the course of our conversation he repented of his sins and placed his faith and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation.  After we prayed he said that he felt like a burden had just been lifted off his shoulders.  As we stood there rejoicing in his new birth we just paused and said, “What now?”  Immediately my thoughts turned to the Scriptures and the command to be baptized.  I asked him if he would like to be baptized and he responded, “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

After we discussed the symbolism and meaning of believer’s baptism, the planning began.  With the support of leadership, we scheduled a day, time, and place for the event.  In faith, my chaplain assistant packed two plastic baptismal liners for Annual Training, trusting we would have occasion to use them.  Indeed!  Now we just needed a hole and water.  I instructed SPC Jacinto that he would be responsible for digging his own grave in symbolizing the putting to death of his old man.  The night before the baptism he began digging.  However, the ground was very hard and rocky.  Jacinto, together with the help of a wrecker, dug a huge trench in the ground.  The next day we employed one of our water tankers and filled the hole in just a few minutes.  With the Commander, CSM and about 30 other Soldiers in attendance, Specialist Jacinto made a public profession of faith and was baptized in obedience to our Lord.

Guidon:

During Annual Training I was setting up the tent that would serve as the chapel in our BSA.  I wanted to fly the chaplain flag to signify the tent for this purpose so I attached the flag to the side of the tent.  However, this seemed inadequate and not very visible.  As I was making my rounds one day I visited our fabrication section.  This group of skilled welders just finished a major project and were looking for something to do.  The idea came to me that I could have them make me a guidon* for my chaplain flag!  They embraced this project and hit the ground running.  Together they helped me design it and even let me make a cut on the steel plate.  It turned out beautifully and the chaplain flag now has a proper place to rest in front of the chapel.  It was even used later in the week during the baptism of one of the welders (SPC Jacinto).

*Director’s Note: A “guidon” is typically the pole or standard on which a unit’s flag is attached. The guidon accompanies the unit wherever it goes.  Every Unit Ministry Team (a chaplain and at least one assistant) is issued a small blue flag with a white cross (or other denominational symbol – like Tablets for a Jewish Rabbi) to place at the chaplain’s tent or place of meeting – “field chapel” for identification.  In Chaplain Dong’s unit, his Soldiers blessed him with their skills and creativity in creating a portable base in the shape of their home state, Oregon, with two doves in flight attached to a cross.  Such actions are indicative of the Soldiers’ acceptance and appreciation of “their chaplain.”

Join me in thanking God for this Baptism and others (Servicemembers, inmates, inpatients, etc.) by CBAmerica chaplains in the U.S. and on military installations around the world! Pray for continued bold and faithful Gospel witness.

 

For more stories of ministry by CBAmerica chaplains, check out our webpage a www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. For information on endorsement for chaplain ministry, contact Andy Meverden at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

 

Rejoicing & Weeping: Chaplain Ministers in Life and Death

By Chaplain Travis Hairston

Rejoicing: My greatest blessing this quarter was taking over the Main Post Chapel Protestant service children’s ministry. When I arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) this past January I was asked by the Garrison chaplain to consider serving as the Main Post Chapel’s children’s pastor since the chaplain currently over this ministry was about to leave, and since I have had a lot of experience in working as an education director while pastoring. Since accepting this assignment 4 weeks ago, we have grown from 20 to 30 children in the children’s church and are starting a new youth Sunday school class. New families have begun attending the chapel and the kids are excited each week to learn about Jesus.

Weeping: A month ago, we had a suicide in our battalion. A new Soldier, just out of Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training, arrived at the unit; and 36-hours later he killed himself in his room. The 36-hours he was with our unit, he was made to feel welcome and supported. My Soldiers are still struggling with the “why” questions and some even blame themselves for not doing “more.” I would appreciate prayers for this Soldier’s family and for this Company who is still struggling with this loss.

Director’s Comments: Chaplains ride a rollercoaster of emotions on a daily/weekly basis, “rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Pray for their focus on each person and situation they encounter.

 

For other stories of ministry, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. For information on endorsement as a chaplain, email Andy Meverden at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

 

Baptism near a Blast Wall: Easter Sunday Baptism in Afghanistan

By Chaplain Paul Castillo, USAF, with Chaplain Andy Meverden

The email message was short and to the point:

Andy,

A beautiful baptism on  Easter Sunday at Enduring Faith Chapel on Bagram Airfield.

The Lord continues to bless.

I should be home in a few weeks.

Blessings,

Paul

Director, Andy Meverden writes:

That’s just like Chaplain Paul; focused on ministering to the Troops and unwilling to toot his own horn. Fortunately for us, he sent an occasional photo of significant ministry events.  Like last October, when he met with fellow CBAmerica Chaplain Scott Noyes before Scott returned home after deployment with the North Dakota Army National Guard.

Then there was the Christmas photo of Paul with his Ministry Team at Bagram Air Base.  Paul shared their names, ministry assignments and significant contributions to the Team.  It was obvious he was proud of each one, and valued their ministry.

Then there was that “secret photo” of Paul and the VPOTUS, Mike Pence, the President’s special, clandestine 2017 Christmas envoy to our deployed Troops.  Again, there was a short message with the photo: “Oh, by the way, I got to meet and greet Vice President Pence.”  (Maybe I wasn’t supposed to share that photo!?)

As I recall, Paul didn’t have to go to Afghanistan.  There was a need for a senior chaplain, and, with Family and Command support, he said, “Here am I, send me.”   From the pictures, it’s apparent that God used him; as a senior officer, a supervisory chaplain, a “fellow-chaplain,” and a minister of the Gospel to those in need of a Savior…near a blast wall!

For more stories and photos of CBAmerica chaplains serving at home and abroad, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy.

 

My Brother’s Faith: Understanding the Beliefs of Others Without Compromising Your Own

A Book Review, By Chaplain (Captain) Andrew E. Calvert, US Army

Fisher, Carlton. My Brother’s Faith: Understanding the Beliefs of Others Without Compromising Your Own. Wetumpka, AL: Peace Fish, 2014.  308 pages.

The drive to love and its opposite—fear—is predominant in Carlton Fisher’s approach to understanding the others’ religious worldview. In his book, My Brother’s Faith, he emphasizes that love for the other drives out the fear of the unknown. The one who is adept at loving improves personal resilience and understands the other’s spiritual practices without compromising personal beliefs.  Environment and heredity shape a worldview.  A spiritually mature person is able to find satisfaction in relationships, purpose in life, and comprehension of his own worldview.  Fisher’s volume is summarized in eleven words: Understanding a different worldview requires a clear comprehension of your own.

Fisher instructs the reader to understand the context of his spiritual health by posing the following questions: Where and when are you from?  Who and what do you come from?  How do you fit in that source?  The answers to these questions establish a three-continuum scale operating simultaneously: 1) the stages of spiritual growth, 2) the stages of love, and 3) the level of certainty versus mystery in religious practice.  Using an introspective understanding of these scales, Fisher constructs a framework to approach the beliefs of others and an approach to disparate people as a whole.  Finally, the author pulls the various strings of thought together to make sense of the spiritual journey.

Spiritual maturity, the first scale, is lofty and takes time. Much like other cycles of life, spirituality exists in loosely defined stages: disorder, duty, doubting, and discovery. Disorder is the infantile stage of seeking happiness or entertainment over meaning.  Through maturation, spirituality transitions to duty attempting to apply meaning to ritual practices. Some people transition from duty to doubting; doubting allows for the ‘why’ questions.  The doubting stage is difficult and leads to three ends: a return to duty, an abandonment of faith practice, or to a level of greater maturity—discovery.  Discovery is still a search, yet the goal is to learn, and the fear of the unknown is less important.  A person can move in and out of these stages over a lifetime.  He may practice in duty and then doubt and after may draw on discovery throughout the course of a day or in a matter of a few minutes.

The stages of love are similar to spiritual growth. Fisher, drawing on Bernard of Clairvaux, describes the growing ability to love in four ways: 1) love self for self’s sake, 2) love God for self’s sake, 3) love God for God’s sake, and 4) love self for God’s sake. The lens of love changes as we see others and ourselves the way God views us.  Hard work and time are necessary to strengthen the ability to love and move away from fear—or at least not to allow fear to have control.

Fisher’s third scale calls a religious practitioner to own his own faith. It is this scale that largely shapes a religious worldview.  Although a group of people may commit to a similar faith, each approaches the door of his faith with unique feelings, thoughts, and nuances.  For some, faith has little to do with certainty, rather faith is embracing wonder and mystery.  Others would say a handful of ideas are certainty in religious faith, but the existentialism of wonder and mystery are more important.  While some have much more certainty in faith and do not spend much emotional energy wondering about supernatural mystery.  The final group would leave little room for mystery saying that real faith and real knowledge go hand-in-hand.

After the faith practitioner identifies his level of certainty versus mystery, adherents to various religious faiths fit somewhere on a nuanced scale identifiable by four signpost markers, which is Fisher’s approach to the beliefs of others. ’My worldview is the only way’ represents the view of others outside the realm of another’s faith as error.  ‘My worldview is closest to the truth’ embodies those who concede that people with another worldview may know enough truth to experience God’s grace.  ‘My worldview is more enlightened’ characterizes people who do not generally make absolute truth claims and who possess a high tolerance for another worldview.  Lastly, ‘all worldviews are relative’ represents those who reject exclusive religious truth claims and validate any worldview as long as it does not hurt others.

The matter of respecting others, Fisher’s approach to people, is often more connected to an individual’s spiritual and emotional maturity than his worldview. Someone may adhere to an exclusive faith, yet still be an inclusive person.  We do not have to respect beliefs that we do not agree with to respect the person who holds such beliefs.  It is quite another matter to hate the dogmatics and the person.  Fisher argues judging others solely on ideology risks being offensive to those who hold such beliefs and hampers the process of building relationships.  When self-assessing solely on systematic theologies, religious practitioners miss opportunities for deeper self-development and frustrate potential personal growth. If the agenda for peace is to make others homogenous with one belief system, then the pursuit of peace will fail.  It is not necessary to have the same worldview to get along, but it is necessary to seek understanding.  Fisher advocates the liberal use of stereotypes acknowledging the use as normal human behavior.  He urges the development of an abundance of stereotypes allowing the interpretive individual to draw on a large breadth of categories to generate sympathy.  Fisher simply states, “We are complex.”

Finally, Fisher applies his exhortation to responsible religious practice in the process of forgiveness leading to reconciliation. If reconciliation is to take place, one has to start with the other’s perception.  If the wall is to be torn down, the spiritually mature and aware person begins by removing a brick from his side of the wall.  When people on the other side see a brick or two removed, perhaps they will begin to remove the bricks from their side.  As the wall is lowered, all may be able to look across the divide and see each other as they really are.

Fisher’s work is well thought out providing an honest framework for interacting and seeking understanding among various religious worldviews. In fact, a careful study of this work is an extremely helpful catalyst in understanding a variety of conflicting worldviews.  Consider the debates around Church and State or the ideological conflicts between Republicans and Democrats.  What if participants applied Fisher’s principles to the historical conflicts among whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, or Christianity and Islam?  Our nation needs the help of mature, seasoned religious leaders.  Chaplains are trained and poised to provide leadership in peace-making and peace-building.  Chaplains can stand against fear and exemplify the love of God and love of man.  Carlton Fisher’s book, My Brother’s Faith, is indispensable for the professional growth of every chaplain.

 

Ch (Capt.) Andrew E. Calvert is a ten-year veteran of the United States Army. He is a 2008 graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, with a Masters of Theology and a 2002 graduate of Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas, with a Bachelor of Arts in Interpersonal Communications. Chaplain Calvert is endorsed by CBAmerica.

 

GIVE AND TAKE: How a Patient Visit Refreshed a Chaplain’s Soul

By Chaplain Gordon Ruddick

The first patient I saw yesterday was not someone I could do anything for. He had died just a few minutes prior to the start of my shift. Since I was in the office and this was one of my patients I was notified of the death. I made my way up to the room at the other end of the hospital.

It had been a sudden death. Not unexpected, but it had slipped in while the son was out of the room and quickly taken this man. I met his young-adult daughter who was sitting on the couch gently crying.

I did what I could to provide support for the daughter and then the son after he reentered the room. The visit was short, the time was spent sharing what they needed to know, and then I was gone as I sensed their need to be alone with dad.

Another day of giving had begun. Now I am not complaining at all. I love my job and the opportunities it gives me to be a loving, caring presence with people who really need that. And so often I am thankful almost beyond words for the opportunities that come my way. I get more than I ever give. But giving is needed.

It had not been a hard day. Sometimes, once in a while, they are. Today had been a day with a lot of variety, which is also why I like being a chaplain. It seems that sometimes I am supposed to receive a bit that I don’t see coming.

I guess this was one of those days.

The last patient I saw yesterday was someone I almost decided not to even try to see. I noticed an order to see her for “anxiety.” She was listed as “no preference,” which is the largest denomination in our part of the country. She also lives in a foster home and has a schizoaffective disorder, meaning that sometimes that can be a real challenge. And sometimes not. I went in.

She was trying to rest. That’s why I had hesitated. Not because of who she was or what I might find.  I saw the sleeping mask just being pulled over her eyes. I understand when people need to rest. But this time I felt I needed to make an exception. I introduced myself. When I said I was a chaplain she was very receptive. And then I noticed what she was listening to. She had her tablet turned on and was listening to contemporary worship songs, most of which I knew.

We sat for a while softly talking on occasion about where she lives and so forth. She told me about her church connection. I actually know some of “her people” and so that was pleasant. Mostly we sat hand in hand and sang some worship music about loving and wanting God’s presence no matter what is going on in our lives. I could sense some of the troubles in her life, some of the loneliness and sorrow, the desire for love and acceptance, the anxiety she sometimes feels. And I could identify with many of those at times in my live as well. We sang about how great our God is. That one is actually one of my favorite songs! We sang about receiving help right in the midst of hard times.

The pager beckoned and my visit needed to be shortened a bit. Worship time was about over. I offered to pray for her and she received that with gladness. She thanked me for coming. I quietly said to her, “No, thank you. Do you know that this has been the best part of my entire day? You have blessed me more than you could know. Thank you!”

“You mean I blessed the preacher?” she said with a look of surprise. I assured her that was true more than she knew.  The “choir of two” was just what I needed to end my day, whether or not I knew it.  How great is our God, and what a privilege I have to live and sing that truth.

Director of Chaplaincy, Andy Meverden, adds:

Chaplain Ruddick, a seasoned hospital chaplain, cardiac patient, and lover of muscle cars, is gifted with a warm heart, listening ears, and beautiful singing voice; all of which he brings to each hospital visit. He has learned to rely on a developed sense of observation, guided by God’s Spirit to discern each patient’s need.  Seeking first to bless, he often comes away with unexpected blessing.

Gordon is one of over 40 CBAmerica chaplains ministering in the healthcare setting. For more stories of ministry experiences, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. For information on pursuing endorsement for chaplaincy, contact Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at chapandy@cbamerica.org.