If ever I walked a mission field barren of Christ yet desperate for Him, the military was that mission field.
If ever I was challenged in exercising my faith, the military was that challenge.
If ever the fingerprints of God Almighty smudged out my plans, it was during this time.
Having grown up in a ministry-devoted family, I was excited to face the challenges of the military while advocating Christ in what I knew to be an arena filled with the spiritually lost. At this point in my life, ministry was bringing one non-believer to Church where the majority of people are Christians. But the dynamics shifted quickly. Now I was the minority among a majority of non-believers. I must admit my faith was surprisingly welcomed. I rarely faced hostile opposition; in fact, most of the Marines in my units expressed their respect for my commitment.
But I wasn’t always the best example of a Christ-follower.
While stationed in Okinawa, my roommate (we’ll call him Ian) had been assigned to Alcoholics Anonymous after recent behaviors indicated a dependency. I intended to capitalize on his sobriety to share Christ with him. But if I’m honest, this period was the lowest point in my walk with God. The enemy was at work in my life. When we were both in the barracks, I was always wanting to keep to myself or sleep. But Ian knew I was a Christian and Ian was hungry. He would ask questions and we would engage in intellectual dialogue. This period was good, but it certainly could have been better had it not been for my apathetic surges towards evangelizing.
But God is still sovereign and our failures have nothing on His plans.
Three years later, while stationed at Quantico, VA, I received a phone call from an odd number of digits indicating an incoming call from outside the country. It was Ian, and he was in Iraq. “Hey John, just wanted to call and let you know that last night I got saved. Thanks for all of those talks in ‘Oki’ and sharing Christ with me.”
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV
Leading by example
Being a Christian in the military presents a host of responsibilities. One of them is leadership. I spent my last few years as a Platoon Sergeant. The rank of Sergeant is one I chased enthusiastically, and when I was promoted I soon learned the weight of this responsibility. No longer did you have your own problems, you had the problems of 60 Marines. Their welfare became your duty, their needs became your needs, and their lives became your responsibility. If you’re not willing to drop everything for one of your Marines, you’re in no position to lead. If mission accomplishment becomes a backburner priority, then the picture has been lost and you compromise the entire platoon, and by proxy the entire unit.
The closer I got to my Marines and their families, the more a responsibility I felt to share my faith. Night shifts typically had slow operational tempos and I remember spending hours answering questions during my shift had about God. They were good to stump me on occasion, too. But hearts were softened and camaraderie developed. Remember, sometimes you're the only Jesus people will have seen at this point in their lives, and God has appointed you to be there for a purpose.
Prayer this Veteran’s Day
Many service members join to find purpose, identity, and love (but they’re too tough to say so – so we’ll call it “camaraderie.”)
Pray that God softens the hearts of our vets and stirs in them a desire to know Him.
Pray for accountability and encouragement for Christians currently serving in the military.
Pray for protection and effectiveness for those forward deployed.
Pray that God grants wisdom and morality to the leaders of our defense community.