VETERANS DAY: The life of an Army chaplain

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (BP) -- Being a military chaplain is a special calling to be a pastor to the troops in uniform. The chaplain serves the role of a spiritual advisor, someone who can build up the morale of the troops by offering much-needed pastoral care and counseling. The chaplain serves at chapel or in the training field, or sometimes even in combat situations -- wherever the need may be, a chaplain's presence is often demanded.

Even during training, a military chaplain participates along with the recruits to act as a role model and a source of encouragement. As a young man under Moses, Joshua must have filled a role similar to a military chaplain. Joshua then used what he had learned as an aide to Moses by performing the functions of both military and spiritual leadership over the Israelites. In Joshua 1:10-11 it says, "Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people: 'Go through the camp and tell the people, get provisions ready for yourselves, for within three days you will be crossing the Jordan to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you to inherit.'"

In February 1986 at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway Seminary), I was sworn into the Reserve Army chaplaincy with a vow to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. The ceremony was officiated by Chaplain Samuel Birky, a former Navy SEAL who had two combat tours in the Vietnam War. I received an endorsement letter from the Chaplaincy Department of the Home Mission Board (now North America Mission Board). That summer I went to the Chaplain School for training at Fort Monmouth, N.J. After graduation, I was promoted to the rank of captain. It was a great honor and privilege to put on my Army uniform as I ministered to our troops on one weekend of each month at the Oakland Army Base, a part of the 91st Infantry Division headquartered at the 6th Army in San Francisco.

In the summer of 1990 I requested to be on two-week active duty at Camp Casey, the headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Division stationed at the DMZ in Korea. Every morning we went out early for physical training before breakfast. As a chaplain I was housed at the officers' quarters, and I attended meetings and led chapel services. On a memorable day in August I even got a unique opportunity to preside over the wedding of an American soldier and a Korean bride. On a very humid summer day, some 30 family members, relatives and friends on both sides gathered. In the middle of the wedding ceremony the electricity went off. As I had been taught, I bravely soldiered on and finished the ceremony! Ministering to our troops at the DMZ was one of the highlights of my time as an Army chaplain.

In my 10 years of serving as a Reserve Army chaplain I gained many spiritual insights. I was able to experience the power of team work and unity, leading to a church-planting strategy that utilizes leadership training and missions deployment, where we send teams of 10-30 church members from our church network to plant new churches at home and abroad. During more than 30 years of pastoral ministry, we have planted more than 40 churches by raising homegrown pastors and missionaries.

Even in retirement, I continue to serve as a chaplain to our veterans in the American Legion in Cambridge, Mass., and as the national assistant chaplain for the Korean War Veterans/Defense organization. As I have traveled to our SBC seminaries, I have supported seminary students to hold student-led chaplain fellowships and encouraged many to join the chaplain candidate programs. Even when our Armed Forces are not engaged in military warfare, they are in the midst of spiritual warfare each and every day. More than ever I believe our Armed Services need spiritual support, encouragement and the prayers of our people. This Veterans Day, as we remember and honor our military personnel, may we commit to praying for them, their families and for the spiritual victory of our nation.

Paul Kim is the Asian-American relations consultant with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee and pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass.
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