On the Front Lines for Jesus: Glimpses of God Fuel Fervor of Military Chaplains
By Carl Stagner
Fifteen chaplains currently represent Jesus and the Church of God movement across all branches of the United States military. These ordained ministers with a minimum of seventy-two hours of graduate theological education have at least two years of experience pastoring a congregation, yet the divine calling has opened doors for them to serve in the context of military chaplaincy. Often in the most grueling of circumstances, these spiritual shepherds offer pastoral ministry to thousands of men and women in uniform, deploying alongside the military to the far reaches of the world. Church of God military chaplains are on the front lines for Jesus, persevering in their role regardless of the return on their investment in countless lives; however, glimpses of God at work from time to time undoubtedly fuel their fervor.
Travis Coffey currently serves in Hawaii, though it’s anything but a vacation. Not unlike the local church, Easter and the onset of spring yield opportunities for ministry. He recounts, “Our religious ministry team hosted a spiritual fitness booth encouraging our Marines and Sailors, and their families, to invest in their spiritual formation and spiritual fitness. We followed that event with an impressive gathering for the Good Friday service that focused on preparing our hearts to be centered on the sacrificial love offering of Christ…. The next day we met with a few hundred people…for an Easter Eve worship service for our area Coast Guardsmen and their families. The next morning, we had a few hundred people come out, as well, for the Easter sunrise service on the base. We hauled in bleacher stands, generators, and sound and lighting equipment, and hosted a terrific service on the Marine Corps Base [as] we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord. We followed that with breakfast and normal Sunday worship service, which was a great combination of a terrific week and weekend of military ministry.”
Chaplain Kirschenbaum works with the Sailors of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Specifically, his involvement with COMRELs—Community Relations Projects—minister to the needs of Sailors to serve and give back to the community. As the result of a recent project, and in a set of circumstances only God could coordinate, the Sailors ended up being the ones receiving the real blessing. “Over the past several months,” Kirschenbaum recounts, “a local church with acres of property here in the Bremerton, Washington, area reached out and asked for volunteer Sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, to help develop the park into recreational area with frisbee golf. It will be a park that anyone in the community can use. While it seemed like an opportunity for these Sailors to give to the community, this church has turned it into an opportunity to love on these Sailors. Every other week for the past several months, twenty to thirty Sailors have participated in this COMREL. Many have felt so loved that they have begun attending services and other functions the church has to offer. Several of the Sailors had never been to church, and through these events they have seen the love of Christ…. It has truly been a uniquely God-intended encounter that we did not anticipate, but God ordained all along.”
William Spencer, who was celebrated last year for his selection to serve in the new Space Force branch of the US military, is especially thankful for the role chaplains play when various conditions affecting uniformed personnel are severe, if not at least emotionally and spiritually draining. One such experience comes to mind.
“Last month (April 2022), I had the opportunity to visit our Airmen and Guardians stationed at Thule Air Base, Greenland,” Chaplain Spencer explains. “These amazing warfighters serve at the Department of Defense’s northernmost base, and it literally sits at the top of the world. It is widely known how vital the Artic is to our national security…. In addition to the isolation experienced by the personnel at Thule, the physical environment is harsh, as well. Extreme temperatures down to -40 degrees with whiteout blizzard conditions and polar bears is all too common most of the year. They experience three months of continual darkness during the winter months where the sun never rises. And in the summer, they experience the opposite, with three months of noontime daylight and the sun never sets. Both the dark season and the season of perpetual sunshine bring their own unique challenges. In this context, the role that our Air Force Chaplain Corps team plays is paramount to resiliency and wellness.”
Spencer also notes the vital skill of chaplains to facilitate free exercise of religion, regardless of religious background. That can be a tricky task, but also one that has reportedly established for Church of God chaplains a good reputation. Of course, in every task, Church of God chaplains maintain their witness of Jesus Christ through word and deed.
In summary, Church of God chaplains exercise versatility and tenacity in their vital ministry. Navy Chaplain Baron Miller puts it well: “In a week, [we] may travel to an outdoor site where [we] support others through counseling and leading worship services; [we] may be invited to offer a public prayer of invocation at ceremonies or lead Bible studies. [But] sometimes [we’re just there to] bring a ministry of presence during the most difficult times.”
Learn more about, and discover opportunities to partner with, Church of God chaplains at www.jesusisthesubject.org/chaplains.
Feature (top) photo: Chaplain Baron Miller leads a prayer with men in uniform (file).