In 1986, Blue Diamond Growers in California initiated an ad campaign asking shoppers to buy a can of almonds each week. This was based on the fact that one almond tree produces fifty-two cans of almonds per year, and there are exactly fifty-two weeks in a year. Their slogan? “A can a week, that’s all we ask.” You can still find the old commercials on YouTube.
When I told my wife during a phone call that someone at Camp Echo was coming to faith in Christ every week, she recalled the TV commercial from years earlier and said, “A soul a week, that’s all we ask.” Being from California, I understood the allusion right away.
Linda had been praying that every week, someone would come to faith in Christ, and it was happening: someone at church on Sunday, a visitor to my office during the week, or a soldier in a unit training area. She prayed for the people I was ministering to, and God answered her prayers: a soul a week.
When I was a rookie chaplain, my supervisor showed up one day to mentor me. “Here’s my philosophy of serving as a military chaplain: ministry follows friendship. If you love your soldiers and spend time with them and they know you like them, then they’ll come to you when they want to talk about their spiritual need. Just love them, spend time with them, and trust the Holy Spirit to draw them. When they are ready to talk about the Lord, they’ll know who to go to.”
That sounded pretty good to me, so I adopted his philosophy of chaplain ministry. It was an effective approach throughout my military career, and it was true in Iraq.
Laughin’ and Prayin’
One Tuesday morning a big ol’ boy stepped into my office, and entered the Kingdom of God. He walked in unannounced. “Mind if I drop my body armor, chaplain?” It was already hitting the floor before I had a chance to reply.
“Not at all. Be my guest. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Brevard, North Carolina.”
“Brevard? I’ve been to Brevard.”
“Pity you,” he laughed loud at his own joke. “What were you doin’ in my town?”
“A friend of mine lives there. I was passing through and stopped to visit for a couple hours. Now, what are you doin’ in my office?”
“I grew up in church, but never got serious ‘bout Jesus or nuthin.’ Just out o’ boot camp an’ AIT, an’ they send me here. So, I figure if I’m gonna die right here in the desert at the ripe ol’ age of 19, might as well get saved, confess my sins, whole nine yards, make things right, ya know.”
I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun praying with someone as I did with him that day. Six feet four, a muscular 225-pounder with short brown hair and medium brown eyes. He walked loud, talked loud, and lived loud. I imagine he even sinned loud.
“Hey! I even know what to pray,” he grinned.
“OK, you go first, then I’ll pray.”
He was right; he knew what to do, and he prayed a great prayer. I don’t recall ever hearing someone telling God jokes during a confessional prayer, but he did. We both started laughing. He kept on praying right through our laughter.
“Hey! I bet even the Lord has a sense of humor. Not a problem laughin’ during prayer, is it, Chaplain?”
“Not a problem. I’m sure God is laughing too. Along with all his angels up there!”
“Ha!” Then he started naming his sins from childhood, high school, basic training, all the way up to a couple days ago. Sins with girls, booze, cigarettes, lyin’, stealin’, cheatin’ in school, missin’ church. Then he concluded with, “An’ I ain’t sinned the past coupla days, Lord, so I guess that brings me up to date. Come into my heart. Amen!” Just like that, he was done.
When he finished praying, I was laughing so hard, I don’t think I could have prayed yet, so I suggested that we talk for a while and get acquainted before I take my turn.
A few days before this encounter, he was wearing his body armor while working, and injured his spine. It looked like the Army was getting ready to send him back to Brevard because he was in non-stop pain.
“So, I guess, I’m going home unless Jesus heals me.”
“Well, let’s pray about that too,” I suggested.
“Gotcha! Your turn to pray.”
Besides talking to the Lord about the young man’s back injury, my prayer was that his commitment to Christ would be genuine and lifelong, regardless of whether he stayed in the Army or went home, whether the Lord healed his back or not.
When I finished praying, my new friend looked at me, grinned and said, “Shoot, when I get home an’ show up at church, my pastor’s gonna have a heart attack. I don’t think he ever thought I was gonna get saved. Boy will he be surprised.”
He looked at his watch. “Whoa! Gotta get back to work. Hey! By the way. Can I get a Bible? When’s church?”
I handed him a Bible. “Church is at ten hundred Sunday, nineteen hundred Tuesday, and any time, any day you manage to find me.”
“Great. I’ll be your usher and deacon. You can count on it.” He hefted his body armor and Kevlar, grimaced with pain, and left just as loudly as he came. Just like that, he was gone.
The young man started coming to church. As promised, he got there early to help set up chairs and serve as usher, greeter, deacon, bulletin-passer-outer, altar worker, whatever I asked him to do. He was a tremendous addition to the ministry team. He stayed afterwards to help clean up. Then went to the DFAC with a group of us for lunch. It took about a month for him to process out and return to North Carolina. I wish I could have seen the look on his pastor’s face when he walked in the door of that Baptist church in Brevard.
This is an excerpt from the book Safest Place in Iraq. Available from this website, Amazon, or any book store.