By Chaplain Jason Dong, Oregon Army National Guard, Deployed
Greetings from Kosovo! Unfortunately, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 occurred on one of our bases here in Kosovo. (Approximately 60 cases have been reported in Kosovo with 1 death.) Restrictions on movement and social interaction where I’m located have increased to include the closure of the gym and increased precautions in our dining facility. (See picture below for the strange and sad way we are required to eat in our dining facilities.)
Our task force continues to move forward with the mission. There is a heightened sense of awareness as Kosovo’s prime minister was removed from office two days ago in a vote of no confidence. Patrols and presence continue, and Soldier morale seems stable. It helps that the border finally allowed the mail through so Soldiers are receiving much anticipated packages.
The limit on social interaction has made it challenging for the Unit Ministry Team. I’m learning to navigate the world of social media to reach our soldiers and families with encouragement and hope. Please pray for wisdom and discernment as I seek to engage in this new way (for me!). I’m thankful we have such technology available to us and the ability to stay connected with family (see eating hamburgers pic 😊). A few Soldiers have expressed a hunger for fellowship and getting into the Word which is encouraging.
Praises/thanks: 1) Sustained health 2) Mail arrived 3) God’s continued provision 4) Technology to keep us connected
Prayer requests: 1) Wisdom, discernment in navigating ministry under these circumstances 2) Open doors and open hearts of Soldiers 3) Good health 4) Peace and health for all our families
Quote of the Week: “…The righteous shall live by faith.” –Romans 1:17
Thank you for your prayers and partnership in the faith.
Jason’s update underscores the spread and impact of the Coronavirus on the life and ministry of our chaplains. Join me in thanking God for the wellbeing of Jason and his troops and asking God to reveal His wisdom and opportunities for ministry under current restraints.
Pastor-friend’s long-term prayer for chaplain-friend
By Chaplain Greg Uvila, LCDR, US Navy,Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor, WA
Recently at the CBNW annual enrichment conference we experienced phenomenal preaching and teaching by Pastor Jeff Vandestelt. He wisely articulated what “Everyday Evangelism” is. Pastor Jeff challenged us in many important ways; particularly one stuck like Velcro to my soul, “In all of your personal stories make Jesus the hero!” What grand encouragement! Yes? Yes!
Clearly the Scriptures proclaim the mystery of incarnational ministry, the reality that we can be the arms and legs of Jesus for others right here, right now. As we do so, we are a hero in their midst, not the hero, that’s Jesus’ spot. Right? Right! Nevertheless, through God’s enablement we can powerfully “hero” into the lives of others.
25 years ago, (I know, I just turned 60) I had the honor of working alongside a CBA youth pastor Mark Claudson (currently Senior Pastor at First Baptist LaGrande, Oregon) in the greater Vancouver, WA area. Through crazy summer camps and sleepless winter retreats we schemed and connived our way into the lives of high school students- two spiritual pied pipers offering hope to a generation, although not really understanding it, really needed Jesus. What an honor to run alongside Mark!
Over two decades later, while at the 2014 CBNW renewal conference, Mark and I connected and got reacquainted, catching up on family news and ministry shenanigans. Before I left that conference, he said “I’ll pray for you man.” You know what? He did! Amazing, right? Stick with me. I didn’t see Mark until this year’s (2020) conference, which, do the math, was 6 years later. He ran up to me like the prodigal Father did his son, “Greg Uvila!? I spun around, locked eyes with Mark, warm smile, gentle eyes “in hand,” “I prayed for you Man…” I was incredulous, “What, really, after 6 years?” I didn’t know what to think or say, I just muttered a simple, sincere thank you.
You know praying for others is heroic. It is servant-hood. It is Christ incarnate. Pastor Mark is my hero, little “h,” not capitol “H,” that designation only belongs to our precious Savior, Jesus. Once again, we got caught up on family history and ministry shenanigans.
Normalcy for me as a “middle manager” in the USN Chaplain Corps consists of a routine ripe with administration and mentorship with regular interruptions of Sailors who are in some sort of mess or crisis. This day was no different, deeply engrossed in some “important” report God knocked on my office door. God you say? Yes, He routinely shows up, disrupts, interrupts, barges in, with the same playful glee and energy of a preschooler wanting to show off her coloring. These Spirit intrusions remind me continually of what the calling to Chaplaincy is all about- Sailors, with hearts and souls, people whom God loves passionately, unconditionally.
The Idea of Living
I won’t soon forget this particular disruption. My very normal day gave way to the abnormal, surrendering willfully like a newborn puppy under the watchful eyes of her mother. The sailor before me was in her 20s, like many of those whom I serve, a single parent. Her presenting problem, unfortunately, has become all too common- she was highly suicidal; sadly the idea of living was far more daunting than dying.
Something has kept you alive
I quickly awoke myself from the malaise of administrative madness and engaged her, “Something has kept you alive to this point; otherwise you would be dead, what has kept you alive? The sailor responded curtly, without hesitation or emotion, “My daughter.” “How old is your daughter?” Her affect did not change, and with no emotion, she curtly responded, “Four.”
For about 30 minutes I continued to engage her- seeking Christ’s help to stay engaged, focused, fiercely fighting the pull on my soul to get sucked into her same depressive state- the stakes were high and she needed a present, alert lifeguard, one who could confidently throw her that bright orange lifeguard ring and pull her safely to life’s shore.
“Tell me, when will your daughter graduate from high school?” She stoically calculated “2035.” Again, showing little emotion, it was if we had been discussing the oppressive Northwest rain. We momentarily sat quietly, both pondering the heaviness of the moment, then God showed up again, first with a gentle whisper, next as a confident coach giving clear, precise instructions. “Here’s what I’d like you to do. I want you to go to the store and buy a pack of 3”x5” cards. Next, go straight home, go directly to your kitchen and locate your junk drawer and pick out your favorite magic marker. You know what you are going to do then?” “What?” Again the same, flat, distant, desperate, lifeless tone, “You are going to write in huge print the number 35 on a bunch of cards and plaster 35 all around your home- on your bathroom mirror, on your bedroom dresser, on your living room mantle, on your fridge in the kitchen, on your computer monitor in your study. Further, you are going to go out and put 35 on the dashboard of your car and on the glove box door, okay?”
Soon our Sailor slipped away into the day with a sense of hope- I need to stay alive until my daughter graduates from high school in 2035 was her new mantra, her orange lifeguard ring. As she got up to leave, my closing argument was simple, “Hey, after your daughter gets her high school diploma I trust and hope and pray you will choose life, that you will have the courage to stay alive just for you, what do you say?” With that challenge, she slowly got of her chair and with the coyest of grins gave me a fist bump and said, “I think I can do that.”
A Month Later
About a month later my phone rings, “Hey Chaps, this is Laura (not her real name), you got a second?” “Sure, of course.” My mind is quickly on over-drive, my brain scanning through the files of the Laura’s I have known and do now know. I remember the voice. Yes, it’s the single Sailor who has the four-year-old… #35… the suicidal Laura. “Hey, Chaps I want you to know things are going much better, but I’m really not calling for myself, I’m calling on behalf of my parents. They just wanted me to tell you thank you, so “thank you!”
“Thank you, Mark, for praying, thank you CBA community for praying, “heroing” into my life and the life of our Sailors at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, thank you Christ, our Hero, for answering.”
Join Pastor Mark in praying for Chaplain Greg and our other 199 chaplains scattered across the US and around the world in military and civilian institutions and communities. For more stores by and about CBAmerica chaplains, go to http://cbamerica.org/category/chaplaincy/. To receive electronic brochures on chaplaincy and requirements for endorsement, email Randy Brandt, director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Chaplain Jason Dong, Oregon Army National Guard, Deployed
Greetings from Kosovo! I hope this finds you in peace and good health. We arrived in Kosovo five days ago. Unfortunately, I’ve already become quite sick as the poor air quality reignited by chronic sinusitis into an infection. Due to the coronavirus precautions I was put on quarantine for 48 hours just in case to make sure I don’t develop signs (i.e. fever or dry cough).
So much has happened since the last update. We finished our training in Germany. I held two chapel services (chapel pics) there and we completed a 5-day exercise in “the field.” At the end of our three weeks there we were given a one-day pass to visit the surrounding area and I chose to visit the town of Regensburg (Regensburg/St. Peter’s pics). It was established in 179 A.D. by the Romans and there was so much history to explore.
Before being quarantined I was able to tour our area of responsibility for this NATO mission (KFOR27). It is a beautiful country, but sadly the effects of war are still visible in many forms. (I will provide some pics in the next update.) We met our interpreter Ivan, a Serbian, who is my age and lives in Northern Kosovo. The mission of our task force of 227 soldiers is to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for the people of Kosovo. My primary responsibility is to provide spiritual support to these U.S. soldiers. However, I will have the ability to meet with local religious leaders to encourage dialogue and peace.
Praises/thanks: 1) We finally made it to Kosovo! 2) God’s continued provision 3) Turned 44 while in Germany 4) interactions with soldiers
Prayer requests: 1) Healing of sinus infection 2) Open hearts of Soldiers 3) Preparation for weekly service (two each Sunday) 4) Preparation for two weekly Bible studies 5) Safety and protection for all during this mission
Quote of the Week: “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” –John 4:23
May the peace of Christ dwell richly in your hearts this week.
Sincerely in Christ,
Jason Alan Dong
Join me is asking God’s direction and sustaining care for CH Dong and his peacekeeping Soldiers and their separated families back home. While you’re at it, pray for the other 200 CBAmerica providing ministry of comfort and calm across the US and around the world, during the COVID-19 outbreak.
By Chaplain Dan Wilton, Illinois Air National Guard, Deployed
My first deployment was full of many wonderful demonstrations of God’s faithful presence and gracious empowering. Nearly every day I saw God grow in me a greater desire to be obedient to His Spirit in what, when, and how I would go about my duties as a chaplain. My family’s sacrifice to enable me to serve had afforded me a ministry opportunity temporarily uninterrupted by the blessed limitations of family life. My wife, kids, and I were determined to not let it go to waste, but we knew that would require a daily disposition of our hearts to abide in Christ and be filled with His joy.
Every morning I made it my practice to not leave my small room until I was happy in the Lord and filled up by His Spirit through prayer and Bible reading. Every morning wasn’t memorable. However, each morning became very meaningful. One morning about half-way through my 6-month deployment, I was half way out my door into the desert heat when I felt strongly in my spirit that God wasn’t done meeting with me. My heart accepted God’s invitation, and I stepped back into my room and got on my knees to pray.
Not knowing quite where to begin in my prayer or what God had in store, I just wanted to be obedient. After a few moments, I began to share with God how ready I was to introduce someone to Jesus. God knew that was in my heart, but I didn’t know it until that moment. I was trying to be patient, but God wanted to hear about my desperation. It had been 3 months and I hadn’t yet had the privilege of seeing an Airman give their heart to Christ even though I had been faithfully teaching, preaching, and visiting. My theological tradition celebrates God’s gracious and proactive work in salvation, and it has freed me to share the gospel without feeling the burden of other’s unbelief.
However, I had become entitled in this freedom and neglected to ask God with boldness to use me in His salvation work. That morning when invited by God to linger a little longer with Him, I prayed what I should have been praying all along. I asked God to do a miracle in someone’s heart and let me be a part of it.
I left my room that morning deeply encouraged and ready for the day. As the day moved along, my memory of that morning began to fade. I was busy and there was much to do for many. In the late afternoon, I was working in the chapel office when two airmen entered. I recognized the supervisor, and he introduced me to an older sergeant named Dan. Dan has given me permission to share what happened next.
In my office, Dan shared his story, and I listened. He had been deployed many times before and had always been able to deal with the stress and trauma of it all. However, this deployment was different. He wasn’t in as much danger as he had always been before, and yet he no longer had the capacity to deal with the stress. He was confused and scared, and death seemed to him an appropriate escape.
A day or two before we met, our base mental health team was able to intervene and had determined that it would be best for him to return home and begin treatment. Feeling his pain and prayerful about how I could help, I asked Dan to share why he had desired to come and speak to a chaplain. Dan shared that he wasn’t a Christian but for several months had felt drawn to the chapel, but he had resisted the urge to attend a service or speak to a chaplain. He then shared that in the morning the urge had become too great to resist any longer, and that is why he had come. He wasn’t sure why, but he knew it was what needed to happen today. With growing excitement, I asked Dan if he was interested in hearing about Jesus, and thankfully he said yes!
For the next several hours, Dan and I sat in my office and I white-boarded the story of God and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we talked, Dan became more and more interested and excited in the gracious work of Jesus. He saw the good news in the Gospel, and he was drawn to it by the grace of God. I was witnessing a miracle. It was like seeing what Luke described when Paul received his sight. Dan’s body-language and demeanor demonstrated what was happening within his heart. It was like seeing scales fall from his eyes (Acts 9:18). My prayer from the morning was being answered. I was seeing a dead soul come to life. Together we counted the cost of following Jesus, and Dan decided to give his whole life to the Lordship of Christ. God did a miracle. He took a man despairing of physical life and gave him eternal life.
As I have shared and reflected upon this day over the last several months, I can only praise the Lord for His faithful and steadfast love. He didn’t need me to save Dan. He could have used another chaplain or believer hanging out in the chaplain corps office. However, I am so thankful He did use me. He quickened me to pray when I wouldn’t have prayed. His Spirit enabled me to pray for those things that I normally wouldn’t have had words to pray for. He brought Dan to the office at just the right time despite his resistance. God was determined to save Dan, and it was beautiful.
None of us need to go to the desert to be participants in God’s beautiful redemption plan. He is going to place opportunities all around us. No matter where we are, it will be for our joy if we commit to pray in the Spirit for what God desires. He will place us exactly where He wants us at the right time so we can behold and participate in His beautiful work.
Join me in rejoicing over the salvation of this Airman’s body and soul. Pray for Chaplain Wilton and the 199 other CBAmerica chaplains serving in difficult places around the world. Ask God to prepare them for each day’s duty in His vineyard.
By Chaplain Jonathan Stephens, US Navy, 7th Fleet, Yokosuka, Japan
When her first child was only six months old, Melissa’s husband received orders to the Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) in the 7th Fleet at Yokosuka, Japan. After the three of them arrived, it was only two weeks before he had to be flown out to sea. With their household goods being delivered to their new home on that same day, she stood in the doorway holding their baby as she kissed him goodbye and asked “how can I pray for you?”
Things did not slow down for Melissa and her family the entirety of their tour. They did not get to do all the traveling that they had hoped to do or experience the culture like they imagined they would. When her husband was out, her distance from the US and the opposite time zones even made relying on extended family for support difficult. Between deployments they were blessed to have another little girl and when the baby was only two weeks old, Daddy had to leave again. Her husband would be absent more than he was present for the first year of their new baby’s life. With her husband being deployed for two out of three Christmases, birthdays and anniversaries, this was fertile ground for bitterness to grow but she did not let it.
Melissa had a firm belief that God had called them to this ministry for a purpose. As her husband would communicate the challenges, she would partner with him in prayer and as he would share with her the testimonies of how God had answered, she would join in the celebration. Of course this was not hidden from God’s eyes but it was also not hidden from the eyes of their little girls. Instead of focusing on the time that he was away, Melissa would celebrate the time that he was present. She would make a big deal about Daddy coming home from work, or Daddy calling on the phone… so, deployment homecomings… were nothing short of epic!
Their now 3-year-old daughter makes up songs about her “so handsome Dad” and sets aside her favorite dress “for when Daddy comes home.” When their now 15-month-old daughter gets sad she points at the iPad and says “DaDa” because looking at pictures of her Dad is her go-to comfort (besides her “Pacie.”) How could their Daddy be their hero when they hardly know him and rarely see him? It’s because of a wife who chooses celebration over bitterness and chooses faith over despair. Children learn to live life through what they observe, and this Dad owes his hero’s status to a wife who treats him like he is one and has convinced his daughters that it is true. – Thank you, Melissa!
Join me in praying for Jonathan and Melissa as they await the soon arrival of baby number three! Include the various families of CBAmerica’s 200 chaplains scattered around the Globe.
By Jerry Levizon, Chaplain to female inmates, Pacific Northwest
This New Year’s Day I woke up early to take Misty to the train station in Klamath Falls Oregon. On Monday December 30, Misty was released from jail after serving 6 months. I began visiting Misty in jail three months prior.
The morning of her release I was there to help with transportation, but what she needed was shoes, socks, and clothes. Did I say I love to shop! Next stop, food stamp office, and Walmart where she purchased a phone. Last stop was the Gospel Mission for a place to stay. I lured Misty away from her friends who were also leaving jail that morning with a McDonald’s breakfast…everyone agreed for Misty not to pass on that!
Nevertheless, the next day Misty did not follow through. We were supposed to meet up, so I could drive her to the mental health office. She was a no show. Misty had a friend named Angie who was also there at Misty’s release; but Angie only wanted help from Misty to get her man out of jail!
My concern was that Misty had met up with Angie and she was gone for good. Oh well! My work for the Lord was done, so I thought! That night on New Years’ Eve, I got a text from Misty saying that she just wanted to spend some time with Angie and her friend’s man before leaving the area. Misty’s mom sent her a ticket for home, and Misty still needed a ride to the train station on New Year’s Day at 8 a.m. “No worries.” I texted. I could do that!
That night I prayed that Misty would be ok, and for the Lord to protect her from the Evil One who wanted her back in his grip. This morning I was up before my alarm and read a text from Misty. She was at a Motel 6 and needed a ride to her friend’s place to pick up her stuff and then the Mission for her meds before getting on the train.
I was up, dressed and out of the house before sunup, and wondered what Misty had gotten herself into. She was at the Motel 6 with a gal I had never met. “What’s up?” I asked and Misty said that Angie and her man began to party, and Misty wanted no part of it. So she called another friend she met in jail who was also struggling to stay sober, and together they rented a room. A Hallelujah! Moment!
I gave Misty’s friend, who she spent the night with, a ride home, then picked up Misty’s stuff from Angie and the Mission. Making it just in time for her train ride home. Misty thanked me. We hugged and I said that I was proud of her choices. I told Misty that God puts people in our life for a reason, but you must make the choice to change; how God wants to help you. “He is not going to force you Misty!” I said. “He designed you for a purpose and it wasn’t to live in the streets and wander aimlessly as you have done.” I went on to say God will love you more than anyone on this earth ever could! More than your father who won’t love you.
The only way to know him, it’s to read his Word, keep praying and watch for wholesome, like-minded people he puts into your life. While on the train, Misty texted me her mom’s phone number and we vowed to stay in touch.
Join Jerry in praying for Misty; that she would follow Jesus, Misty’s Savior. While at it, pray for CBAmerica’s 13 other chaplains serving at the Federal, State and Local level.
2019 is now history! Reflecting on the past year, it’s difficult to imagine that God could have packed any more excitement into it for our family. The year began with a much needed reunion, as Phil returned from his nine-month deployment to Iraq on January 14.
We enjoyed a family getaway to Florida, then Phil took advantage of several professional Army training opportunities in the following months. In March, he completed instructor certification to teach marriage enrichment seminars for Soldiers. We were able to lead two of these weekend events for our Regiment in San Antonio during the fall, providing marriage relationship training for over 70 Army families. Phil also had the opportunity to attend Fort Hood’s rigorous Air Assault School in April, and Family Life Chaplain Training (pastoral counseling methodology) for two weeks in July.
It has also been a year of bountiful ministry in Pioneer Squadron. Phil had over 170 counseling sessions with Troopers throughout the year, and these meetings yielded rich times of prayer, searching God’s word for truth and guidance, confession and repentance for sinful, unhealthy behavior, and the forging of God-honoring relationships throughout the Army family. Phil joined the squadron on several field training exercises throughout the year, culminating in a month-long return to the National Training Center in California’s Mojave Desert.
Phil leading a 9/11 Memorial Service
Our family also continues to participate and serve in Fort Hood’s “Chapel Next” community. We have found incredible brothers and sisters in Christ among this chapel family, and are thankful to contribute to a community on post that prioritizes preaching Scripture and following Christ in a world of competing priorities. Fort Hood’s AWANA has also been a huge part of our family ministry. Beckie has reprised her role as Truth ‘n Training Director (grades 3-6), and Phil teaches the Bible lessons for this group. Gabe has been fearlessly serving as a Sparks leader (K-2nd grade), with his younger brothers still participating as Clubbers.
Speaking of the boys, they have discovered the joys of youth athletics here at Ft. Hood. Three of them (Jack, Hayden, Clark) played on soccer teams this past fall, and the four oldest all played their first season of basketball this winter. There are no lack of opportunities here, but the challenge as most families know is trying to fit everything in.
In late summer, we received news about our next Army assignment: Phil was selected for the residential Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, which will begin in June 2020. CPE is a four-year commitment: a one-year internship with an academic cohort at an Army Hospital, followed by a three-year utilization tour at either an Army medical facility or correctional facility.
This assignment will bring different kinds of challenges, as it involves chaplains walking through some extremely difficult trials with other Service Members and their families. It will also present new academic challenges and prospects– candidates in the program are provided the opportunity to earn their Doctor of Ministry degree while serving. It is reassuring to know the God who has led us to this ministry in the Armed Forces will continue to equip us for His work.
Phil playing music at the Regiment’s Dining Facility on Thanksgiving
In late December, we found out that the initial year of CPE will take place at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Washington. So, come this spring, the Persing family will bid farewell to Fort Hood and travel to make our next home in the Pacific Northwest. The next several months will be a time of tremendous transition as we look for a new house and prepare Pioneer Squadron for its next chaplain after Phil’s departure.
So, that’s a small taste of the adventures God has led the Persings on. We love and thank God for you, and treasure your prayers in this New Year!
With Trust in Him and Love for You,
The Persing Family
Gabe, Jack, Hayden, Clark, & Timothy
“And we have confidence in the Lord about you… May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”-2 Thessalonians 2:4-5
By Chaplain Sean Callahan, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
This year, Thanksgiving was quite unorthodox, both for our family and our ministry. I started Ranger School in early November, and after receiving a “no-go” on patrols, received the news that I would be a Darby recycle for next cycle. What that meant for me and those in the same position, was that we would be in a holding status for the next three weeks until Holiday Block Leave, and then would be reinserted with the new January class. But this holding status wasn’t a walk in the park; we were restricted to the barracks, completed menial details every day, and passed the free time we did have reading or playing cards. We couldn’t leave Camp Rogers unless we received a pass, and thankfully the leadership gave the 125 “Ranger Prisoners” (as we liked to call ourselves), a 10-hour pass for Thanksgiving Day. Most of the guys didn’t have any family come down to visit, any means of transportation outside of taxis, or any place to go. My wife, Katie, and I hatched a plan.
We had been praying about how to serve in my current waiting period, and Katie decided that she would make the 7-hour (plus hours more of baby stops) drive with our 5-month-old to Columbus. She coordinated for a catering order from Cracker Barrel, received permission from the hotel to host the meal in the lobby, brought little decorations and festive table settings, and helped transport the Paratroopers. The guys were tasked with bringing drinks or their favorite desserts. Prior to starting the meal, I gave a devotion on Psalm 118 about being thankful in the waiting periods in life. We went around the table and expressing what we were thankful for, and then we all ate to our hearts content (which is a lot for a Ranger Student!). It was a fantastic time of fellowship and family, and one of the most treasured memories Katie and I have of our time in the 82nd.
I believe that is what God reminds us of in times of trial: that there are always things to be thankful for, and sometimes the most beautiful pictures we receive of his character, love, grace, and provision come to us during times of failure, of great trial, or of waiting. While I didn’t want to recycle a phase of Ranger School and spend an extra month and a half away from family, I’m beginning to understand why God made it a part of my experience. The relationship building, opportunities to share (and live out) the gospel, and even hold bible studies have been plentiful. The perseverance through failure and reliance on God’s strength has been spiritually formative. The opportunities to share ministry with my family have been joyful and have brought us closer together and made me even more thankful for the wife the Lord has given me. The experience has been difficult and humbling, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because I have seen how God can use even the most difficult circumstances to do extraordinary things.
Join me in praying for God’s strength and protection for Chaplain Callahan, his wife, Katie and infant son during this two-month absence of rigorous Ranger training. Pray also for the other military (105) and civilian (95) chaplains as they serve in unique ministry environments.
By Chaplain Joel Van Sant, Federal Bureau of Prisons
Where Do I Start?
This is the question that was in the front of my mind when the Lord began to lead me from local church ministry to prison chaplaincy. Where do I start? I knew that there would be many challenges but I was not prepared for the openness and transparency found in prison. For a while, I thought that prison chaplaincy was going to be a much more difficult ministry compared to local church ministry. To my surprise, while prison is definitely a different setting for ministry and has its own set of challenges, it is truly a plentiful harvest.
Over the past decade, I have been in leadership positions in three different churches. Each time I have entered a ministry, I have had to learn the culture of the community, figure out when to schedule ministries during the week, and grow into the role of leadership set before me. The latter always seemed to take the most amount time. While I was prepared to bring pastoral leadership to each congregation, I learned quickly that such a role takes time as people need to adjust to a change in leadership.
This is not always the case in prison chaplaincy. On my Sunday at Federal Correction Institution (FCI) Fort Dix, N.J., I was surprised to find a crowd of men at the door of the chapel, waiting to start their respective worship services. I attended the Protestant worship service that afternoon and could tell that these men had a desire to bring their best before the Lord in their worship. The inmate led worship team included men with professional instrumental and vocal backgrounds. It was so overwhelming to see how God was using men like this to bring people into His presence in worship. One of the other chaplains at the facility preached and encouraged the men to grow in their praise of the Lord. At the end of the service, I talked with many inmates who wanted to meet with me at some point during the week.
The following days provided me with so much insight as I adjusted to this new ministry. I was amazed to find many of these men at my office door during the week. They came and sat in my office and shared their entire story with me. They told me of their offenses and also shared about how God has been working in their lives to bring them closer to Him. A few of these men even talked to me about some of the goals and desires they had for further ministry in the prison.
Overall, this entire experience has brought me much closer to the Lord and has taught me so much more about how God continues to grow His kingdom. Every Sunday, when I preach, I can’t help but think of the words of 2 Timothy 2:9, “the Word of God is not bound!” I am continually grateful that God has placed me in a setting where hearts are longing for a relationship with God.
Join me in praying for Joel and his family as they settle into this challenging season of ministry within the Federal Prison system, as well as for CBAmerica’s fourteen (14) other chaplains serving in Federal, State and Local correctional systems.
Chaplains Sean Callahan and Daniel Werho, US Army, Fort Bragg, NC
Our greatest blessing this
quarter has been the new Verge service launched here at Fort Bragg. This ministry was a product
of much labor, prayer, guidance by the Holy Spirit, and the leadership of fellow
CBAmerica Chaplain Daniel Werho. In a nutshell, Verge is a new Wednesday
evening gathering focused on reaching Soldiers in the barracks population, building
community, investing in their spiritual growth, and empowering them to take the
lead in the ministry.
journey began last spring, when Daniel launched a working group with the intent
of studying the Emerging Generation – the young generation emerging after the
Millennials. A small team of Chaplains and retirees met regularly to conduct
book studies, Scripture studies, and present on survey findings in order to
discern the best way of reaching the young Soldier population on Fort Bragg.
For every answer we thought we had, more questions emerged, and so the weekly
meetings became a fluid process where the shape of the ministry changed and
adapted. With the help of some key mentoring Chaplains, the team began to
settle on the vision, mission, and values of a Christian worship service for
Soldiers, by Soldiers.
Central to the ministry effort are focus groups, which are essentially existing small group bible studies that commit to a 3-month process of studying a book on a relevant topic, studying the Scriptural answers to the questions that emerged, and then empowering young Soldiers to share their stories of learning and transformation during the service itself. The idea was that these groups would enable us to get bottom-up feedback as to what struggles young Soldiers are facing, and then we could shape our teaching to shed light on the biblical truths that answer their struggles. It also provides a unique venue for retirees and other “mentors” to build community with and disciple these young participants.
leadership has been essential to moving the initiative forward. It’s something
new and different in the Army chapel life, and as with anything new, will meet
with skepticism and unforeseen hurdles. However, support from Chaplain
leadership across Fort Bragg has been superb, and we have received many helping
hands along the way. Our launch night exceeded our expectations, and since the
launch, Soldiers have truly taken ownership of the service. But probably the
most rewarding part of this launch month has been the intentional interaction
with these young Soldiers. Our goal is to listen to their stories and share the
story of God’s transformational love in our own lives.
In the end, our ministry will be missional. We
hope to mobilize and equip young Soldiers to reach their peers. We want to have
a presence in the barracks. We want to solidify a sense of community in a
disconnected world. We want to come alongside of people in their brokenness,
and help them see how Christ can lead to wholeness. This has been an incredible
joy for the team and our families, because every single interaction on
Wednesday night is with our target group. There is a single-mindedness in our
effort, and every week we are looking closely to see where God is at work and
who we can invest in.
As I shared last night
during our “response night” that culminated our four-week series on Verge’s
values, the ultimate point of ministry is to glorify God. It’s so easy to get
caught up in worries over numbers, interest, or even how our performance (or
lack thereof) looks to others. But, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “God
chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in
the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world,
even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human
being might boast in the presence of God.”
time we have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, or worried how it
would turn out, God has reminded us (and especially me) that he can take the
least of what we think we have to offer and turn it into something that far
surpasses our expectations. He does it this way so that when we look back on
the process, we will see his fingerprints everywhere and give him glory for
it…because it certainly wasn’t us.
me in thanking God for the Spirit-led initiative of Chaplain Daniel Werho and
collaboration by Chaplain Sean Callahan and others to pursue the vision for
this new ministry outreach to the barracks Soldiers of Fort Bragg, and
potentially other US military installations.
Pray that word would spread, and that God would put interest in young
Soldiers to come check out this new ministry experience.