By Graham Glover –
I recently returned from a 2-week field exercise with my Soldiers. Apart from being away from my family, sleeping in a 1-man pup tent, not showering, and eating more MREs than my digestive tract prefers – it was a phenomenal time of training with my new Battalion.
There are many things an Army chaplain can do to earn the trust and respect of his Soldiers, to include, above all, being a faithful man of God. But living with them in their training environment – enduring the “suck” that everyone experiences while in the field, is one of the best ways for a Soldier to realize that where they go, their chaplain goes – when they suffer, their chaplain does so as well. This in turn creates a bond which is almost impossible to duplicate in a garrison environment, allowing ministry to flourish in ways practically unimaginable. And even though I smelled, didn’t sleep much, and felt my age more than ever before, I could not have asked for a more ideal means to fulfill my vocation as an Army chaplain.
This short field exercise was like every one that preceded it, to include those that lasted much longer, and of course, those times deployed to a warzone. These are, without question, times of great joy, even when they suck.
Look, I oftentimes sigh when planning for a training exercise or a deployment. There are many things one will never look forward to during these times. Even though I know joy will result, it is sometimes hard to get excited about the suck I know I am about to experience. But there is nothing like the field – nothing that compares to deploying with Soldiers, where you literally get to work, eat, and sleep alongside those entrusted to your spiritual care. In so many ways, it is the perfect place to do ministry. It is, quite literally, 24/7 ministry.
I’d like to think that chaplains, in particular Army chaplains, have a corner on the market of enduring the suck of their flock. But this is hardly the case. All of us that have been called to ministry – in whatever form that entails – are called to minister in the “field”. We are called to endure the suck of our people and to live alongside those to whom we minister. Our Lord did this and we who call ourselves His disciples, should do so as well.
This might not be comfortable. It might stretch our limits. To get our boots dirty, to have the demands of ministry pull us away from our families and outside our comfort zones, is not something we necessarily seek out. But it is in these times and in these places, when we meet people in their most rare form – tired, hungry, lonely, and afraid – that we can proclaim the incredible joy of the Gospel. It’s not that these are the only times where the Gospel can and should be proclaimed. Indeed, the Good News of salvation should always be upon our lips. But the Word cannot reach the lost only when standing in a pulpit. The Sacraments cannot be administered only when presiding at the font, the confessional, or the altar of the sanctuaries that our congregations have built. Rather, these gifts of God ought also to be brought in and among God’s people – wherever they are and whenever they desire them.
To deliver these goods, as my peers here at The Jagged Word have commended so many times before, one must be where God’s people are – in the field, amidst the suck. For it is only there that these precious gifts of Christ can confer the graces that we all so desperately need. And it is then that joy will be given. An eternal joy that knows no boundaries. An everlasting joy that allows each of us to endure the suck of our sinful world.