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“Wanted: More military chaplains” (July, page 22) points out the need for ELCA military chaplains, noting that numbers have been shrinking (from 258 in 1970 to 82 on active duty today).
One day in Iraq, I introduced myself to one of our new recruits. His response to me? “Nice to meet you, Sir. I’m a Wiccan.” I gently replied, “Well, let me know what I can do to help you practice your faith.” “Oh,” was all he had to say.
A couple of months later I was in his vehicle as we were returning from visiting wounded soldiers in Balad. We were hit by a red phosphorus IED (improvised explosive device). He and the soldier in the gunner’s hole received superficial burns on their faces.
I was holding the compress against his face while the medic attended to him. Whimsically I said, “God was with you today.” He looked at me in a strange way and said, “Good one, Chaplain.” Two weeks later he responded to the gospel through the witness and outreach of another soldier, and now he follows Jesus Christ as the Lord of his life.
Deep in the bowels of God’s word, early in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear the story of the Magi. What is known is that maybe they were an early version of psychic hotline or horoscope-reading types. They were outsiders, maybe early Wiccans. Yet they were looking for something and someone to give their life meaning and context.
After months and maybe years of wandering and following the star, they come to the birthplace of Jesus. They are overjoyed. They bow before their Lord, responding to God’s gift by putting their money where their hearts are. Then they go home by another route.
The soldier I mentioned above now follows another route—the way lit by Jesus Christ. In Christ he finds hope, purpose and direction. He does so because another believer loved him enough to accept him and to point him to the light. I hope it’s also because he had a chaplain who loved him unconditionally and incarnationally. I didn’t try to save him. But I pray God used me within the context of our relationship to point him to the Savior.
That is the joy and blessing of the unique ministry of presence that military chaplains and especially ELCA chaplains have to offer. In the midst of the awful hell of war we nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the dead. We bring soldiers to God and God to soldiers.
Check out this week's articles:
Thanks for caring: Nebraska youth ‘grow’ their money to serve others.
Also: Clapping.Also: The color purple.
Discussion military chaplaincy:
July 22-29: Join retired U.S. Air Force chaplain Ed Hatcher (right) to discuss the need for military chaplains and their ministries within the armed forces.
This week on our staff blog:
Kathleen Kastilahn blogs about car pooling.
Julie Sevig blogs about summertime rituals.
Sonia Solomonson blogs about vocation and ministry.
Andrea Pohlmann (right) blogs about who makes the decision of which church to attend.
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