Chaplain's letters from Iraq reflect walk of faith amid chaos, carnage

by Michael Foust, posted Friday, April 11, 2003 (16 years ago)

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (BP)--It takes a while for a letter to travel from the battlefield to the local post office. Nevertheless, a letter from the front lines of Operation Iraqi Freedom can be quite telling.

It took two weeks for Charity Cash to receive a letter from her husband, Navy LT Carey Cash, chaplain for the Marine 1st Battalion. When he penned it March 27 deep in Iraq, the war had started, ground troops were advancing and America had suffered its first combat death -- Marine 2nd LT Therrel S. Childers, who served in Cash's battalion.

Cash gathered the troops and led a makeshift memorial.

"It's quite life-changing," he wrote to his wife. "The men are doing well and looking to me as never before, and I'm looking to Him [God]. I look into their eyes before they pull out to go into a potential fight. I touch them on the arm -- touch is very big out here. I pray with them and for them, and off they go."

Just a few weeks earlier, Cash had told how he had baptized 47 new believers while stationed in Kuwait. Now, those same soldiers were in battle.

"I commit my way unto Him each day," he wrote, "and pray for peace, protection and that His life and love would shine through me through the chaos and carnage of this battle and bring salvation and comfort to these men."

Charity Cash beams with pride for her husband.

"They love their chaplains," she told Baptist Press. "They absolutely want him with them at all times."

Cash, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is commissioned by the North American Mission Board. He was deployed Feb. 4 and is in the Middle East for the duration: When his battalion comes home, so will he.

Both Carey and Charity are "military brats" -- children of military parents -- so they're well-acquainted with military life. The fall of Baghdad was "wonderful," but she's not expecting her husband home anytime soon.

"I know that something like this is not a quick fix," she said. "We're still in this for the long haul. ... You just have to take it day by day."

She knows her husband is being true to his calling, and so is she -- ministering to soldiers' wives and leading Bible studies at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where she and her husband are based.

She prays for her husband constantly. The fact that he had baptized 47 soldiers by mid-March excites her.

"It's happening all over there," she said. "Chaplains from all different denominations are having these exact same incredible stories to tell. The Lord is moving in the desert."

Carey and Charity have chosen to serve in the base's Marine Memorial Chapel instead of an off-base church. They have the background for it. It's where they belong.

"We just have a heart for this community," she said. "We even tell our kids, and they know it, 'We are all ministers.' We feel like we can do more good in this community [versus an off-base church]. There are so many young wives with little kids. You can just see the fear in their face."

When she's not taking care of their five children, she's doing her best to follow her husband's progress. The 1st Battalion has an embedded journalist, making it easier to know what's transpiring.

When Carey wrote her from Kuwait, he was leading new Christians in a discipleship program called "Head, Heart and Feet." It was going well.

"He said that they're just eating them up and just plowing through [the classes]," she said. "His colonel is going to the services, which is wonderful, because the young guys are going to really listen."

God has used the war to remind soldiers of their morality, Charity said. Before deployment, her husband would have around 10 soldiers attend his chapel services at Camp Pendleton. But in Kuwait, the number was around 250.

"One out of four Marines would end up coming to the services," she said. They are hungry. ... These guys are coming to grips with [their morality] and realizing, 'You know what? There's a reason I'm here, and it's not just for myself. It's because I was created to glorify the Lord.'"

Her husband doesn't carry a weapon, but instead has a bodyguard -- known as an RP (religious personnel) -- who stays with him constantly. The RP is manned with a weapon.

His father, Roy Cash, a retired Navy captain, keeps up with his son's battalion by watching the news.

"He doesn't carry any arms or weapon, but what he carries is the most powerful one in the world -- the Word of God," he said. "He's doing the job he was put there for. We're proud of that and happy for him."

Carey and Charity have a famous last name, and for good reason. Their great uncle is Johnny Cash, the famous singer himself. Occasionally friends jokingly ask Carey and Charity if they're related to he musical legend -- not realizing that they in fact are.

"We just kind of smile because no one will really believe it," she said.

Carey hasn't been a chaplain long. He was a Navy reservist, serving as pastor of Smyrna Baptist Church in Burlison, Tenn., when he and his wife felt the Lord leading them into the chaplaincy. His active duty started Aug. 1, 2001 -- just one month before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"We knew immediately why the Lord had called us into the chaplaincy," Charity said, reflecting on the events of 9/11. "You know why God closes doors and opens others. It gives me chills thinking about it."

Charity has talked to her husband only once since he left. On Feb. 15, around 3 in the morning, he called to wish her a happy birthday. He was a few hours late -- her birthday is Feb. 14 -- but she was simply thankful to hear from him.

She is also thankful for where God has put them.

"It was an incredible and awesome ride to get here," she said.


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FAITH HEATS UP.

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