Danger, Dust, and Death

When they told me where I was going, they said it was the Safest Place in Iraq, but by the time I got there, things had changed. On a Tuesday night, the dining facility was crowded, bustling, with hardly an empty chair, when mortars landed on the building.

People were stunned, walking around like zombies. Most avoided eating in the DFAC, even after it was repaired and they started serving meals again. From that moment, incoming mortars and rockets became part of the routine that was soon to be my daily life.

Men from Diwaniyah would drive to a vacant field on the edge of town, bringing their rockets and mortars to fire at us. They did this in the morning on their way to work. Sometimes it was mid-day during a lunch break, and other times in the evening on their way home from work. Occasionally it was in the middle of the night. Some of the people shooting at us were teens or even younger. Often, they would launch their missiles-of-death just before, or right after their prayers.

I volunteered to go. My philosophy as a chaplain was that I wanted to be wherever soldiers had to go, and if they were at war, I wanted to be there with them. Not because I enjoy fighting. We all know that a chaplain is a non-combatant. I wasn’t there to fight.

I was there to encourage, counsel, and pray; provide worship opportunities, friendship, and guidance; nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead; and guarantee the constitutional freedom of worship to men and women of all faiths, and the same freedom to men and women of no faith. Camp Echo was my home, my parish, my fiery furnace.

I knew from the start that I could be wounded or killed. It was a weird feeling, and I came to accept it. How or when, I had no idea. But every time there was another explosion, I wondered if this was the day.

My wife also knew I might not make it home alive. Or if I did return, I might be a broken man–crippled, blind, psychologically damaged, or all of the above. With that possibility in mind, she told me before I left home, “I don’t want to find out after you get back or after you’re dead that you were in danger. I want to know right away.”

The first time I mentioned during a phone call some of the dangerous things that were happening, she said, “I already know. I saw it on TV and in the newspaper. They’re mentioning Diwaniyah and Camp Echo by name.” She scanned and sent me an LA Times article. I took it to our staff meeting the next morning, and discovered that many on our leadership team didn’t know what was going on outside the wire.

Danger, dust, and death formed the context for the job I was sent to do. Operating from the philosophy that “ministry follows friendship,” I built relationships among the men and women at Camp Echo: military, civilian, American, and Coalition. This allowed me to be there when they were at their best and when they were at their worst, in their strongest moments and in their weakest.

In the heat of the battle and the heat of the desert, hours turn into days, which transition to nights, and add up to weeks and then months. The conditions wear you down, leaving an imprint on your mind and your soul: images that will be seen in dreams for months or years, sounds that reverberate long after you’re home, people you befriended and cared about and stared at death with, but will probably never hear from again. For many of us, it’s only memory now. But for others, the war continues … on the inside.

An excerpt from the book, Safest Place in Iraq, published by Morgan James Faith.

Veterans Day Books

If anyone is interested in a good read for Veterans Day, or perhaps getting a gift for a friend in the military, here are several books worth considering.

This book focuses on the role of the chaplain, but also takes a good look at religion in the Armed Forces. It answers a lot of questions about the rights and restrictions applicable to people of faith, and presents an accurate picture of what it’s like to be a Christian in today’s military. Containing a lot of anecdotes and real life examples, it also shows that there is an open door for genuine sharing of faith when done correctly and respectfully. Click on the book to see it on Amazon.

Being in Iraq in 2007 was scary and dangerous. Yet, the Lord was doing some fantastic things in the lives of the men and women I served, loved, and ministered to. Written as a combination memoir and testimony, it tells stories of answered prayer, overcoming fear and temptation, and experiencing the presence of God.

My dad wrote this book about what it was like to be on the USS Yorktown in World War II. He survived the Battles of Midway and Coral Sea, experienced the amazing presence of the Lord during the toughest days of his life, and shares what it was really like. Originally published with the title God Was at Midway and then as USS Yorktown at Midway, last year my brother wrote a new introduction and I added an epilogue.

These books may be purchased on Amazon by clicking on the images of the books. You may also click on the Books tab in the menu above. And if you’d like to listen to my podcast conversations with Richard Blackaby (Blackaby Ministries International) or with Randy Zachary (Family Radio) scroll down to the bottom right and you can play them.

The Ukrainian Stranger

My first Sunday at the FOB in Iraq was Palm Sunday, one week before Easter 2007. Eight people showed up for church that morning: a civilian I called Pastor James, four American soldiers who had been meeting with him faithfully for the past year, my Chaplain Assistant, one new guy, and me. It was easy to see that the soldiers respected James. He had been there for them, and they loved him. My sermon was based on Mark chapter eleven, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We finished worship having communion together, Pastor James and me side-by-side.

After I thanked everyone for coming and was about to dismiss the small group, a stranger in a Ukrainian army uniform walked into the chapel unannounced and proclaimed, “I have something to say.”

He had an excellent command of English vocabulary, but with a heavy accent. He was an attractive, friendly man, about 6′ 2″ with short hair, heavy eyebrows, and green eyes.

“I am not a Christian. Several months ago, I started having problems with my eyes. I went to the doctors here in our medical clinic. They told me I had an incurable eye condition. They brought in a specialist who confirmed the diagnosis. He said there was nothing they could do for me. No treatment. No medicine. No surgery. He said my eyes would gradually get worse until I was totally blind. Last Sunday I came here and asked the men if they would pray for me.” He pointed to James and said, “That man put his hands on my head and prayed. These other guys put their hands on me and prayed too.”

“The next day, last Monday, I could see better, so I went back to the clinic. The doctors did the same tests all over again. This time, they said I don’t have that disease. I have been back to the clinic to see the doctors almost every day this week. Your God healed me. I am not going to lose my eyes. I am so happy. How can I become a Christian?”

You could hear the sounds of surprise and amazement from the small congregation, especially from Pastor James and the men who had prayed with him the previous Sunday. In simple terms, I explained who Jesus was and what it meant to receive him as Lord and Savior.

I wasn’t a part of the miracle of healing that he experienced the previous week. Pastor James and the others had prayed for him. But on my first Sunday at Camp Echo, I had the privilege of praying with this man, a captain in the Ukrainian army, as he asked Jesus to come into his heart. The feeling among our little group was incredible.

The Ukrainian brother came alive. Every time I saw him, whether walking down the street, sitting in the DFAC, or attending a staff meeting, he hugged me, told me how thankful he was that Jesus healed him and saved him. And then he’d say, “We have to tell people about Jesus. They have to know him.”

The rest of the story may be read in the book Safest Place in Iraq. You may click the Books tab above or order it through any bookstore.

Should I Give This to a Friend?

I got this email through my website yesterday:

Hi,  Paul. A friend loaned me a copy of your book and I read it. I enjoyed it, so I bought a couple of copies. My pastors wants to read it. Here’s my question: I have a friend who served in Iraq some time ago, maybe 15 years ago or more. He did lose some friends and saw action that had casualties. Do you think this book would be appropriate to offer for him to read? Would it bring some perspective or healing? Or take him back to relive the horrors of war? I would appreciate your input.

And here’s what I wrote back to him:

Hello, friend. Great to get your email. Thank you. I think the book would be a good thing for your friend to read. While it mentions some of the painful stuff and the danger, it also shows how some of us processed the PTSD and got better. The Lord is a huge part of that, and I think it could be helpful for your friend. I’ve had a chance to talk with other veterans who went through some pretty horrible experiences, and they told me it was helpful. So go ahead and share it with him, and tell him he’s welcome to give me a call or an email if he wants to talk about his experiences over there.

The man’s pastor wants to read the book, which leads me to say this: Anyone looking for a book to use for a book group, a Bible study, or a home group discussion might consider using Safest Place in Iraq. There are discussion questions in the back. Plus, there’s a separate study guide. Consider using it in your group or at your church.

Recommendation for Safest Place in Iraq

I pray that all of you are doing well after a week of glorifying God during Holy Week.  As I compose this email, I have a lingering awe over the profound power of Jesus’ resurrection . . . how that day changed everything for everybody for all of history and all of eternity . . . how it changes you and me every time we bow our heads in prayer!  God is so good!

Here is a recently released book by a chaplain:

“Safest Place in Iraq: Experiencing God During War” by Chaplain Paul Linzey, is an excellent resource for chaplains, as they consider how they might handle combat ministry.  Great vignettes throughout.  Honest and inspiring.  It’s widely available and costs about $20 in paperback.  It is published by Morgan James Faith.

From Rev. Jim Denley, Retired Navy Captain, now the military chaplain endorser of the Assemblies of God. The book may be purchased on this website, from the publisher, or ordered from any bookstore.

Christmas Present

If you’re wondering what to give someone for Christmas, let me suggest the book Safest Place in Iraq. The emphasis is on the presence of Christ during tough times. And that’s the meaning of Immanuel . . . God is with us.

As one reviewer wrote, “It is very clear that even in the greatest uncertainties of life, God makes a difference for those who turn to Him. Lives touched for Jesus Christ are given the opportunity to be changed for a lifetime.”

Give the gift of faith, hope, and love this year. And if you order it from this website, it’ll get there faster than ordering it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Just click on the Books menu above.

Publisher’s Virtual Book Launch

I am so excited for my publisher’s Virtual Book Launch event for their fall 2020 catalog of new books. The book launch week of November 16-20 will be an incredible celebration of sharing author interviews and conversations with the world!

The event will be hosted on www.MorganJamesBookLaunch.com. Each day of the week, November 16-20, will spotlight a different theme. My book is included in the “Get Lost in a Good Story” category, and will be featured on the website at 3:00PM EST on Tuesday November 17th.

Mandatory Reading

I just finished reading your book and wanted to thank you for taking the time to write it. It brought back many similar memories of my time as a chaplain. When I retired from the Army, I became the endorser for the National Association of Evangelicals. If I was still in that position, I would make your book mandatory reading for any chaplain candidate and junior chaplain. It was excellent. Thanks for being transparent and honest about your own struggles and for showing your willingness to work with and encourage other faith traditions. Job well done! Keep writing and ministering. I wish I had something like it when I was a young chaplain.

Chaplain (Colonel) Paul Vicalvi, was the Commandant of the Army Chaplain Center and School, and then the Chaplain Endorser for the National Association of Evangelicals. After reading my book, Safest Place in Iraq, he sent me this note and gave me permission to share it.

Leadership Podcast Interview

Dr. Richard Blackaby, of Blackaby Ministries International, recently interviewed me for his Leadership Podcast. The conversation is about 35 minutes long, and covers diverse topics such as what it’s like to be at war, responding to temptation, the power of prayer, the importance of unity in marriage, being an effective witness for Christ, why some people consider suicide, and effective leadership and influence. You can listen to the interview by scrolling to the bottom right of this screen.

Richard and I were discussing my new book, Safest Place in Iraq, where, I mention the impact that Dr. Blackaby’s devotional book Experiencing God Day By Day had on me while I was in Iraq, specifically how the Lord used one particular reading on May 8 to prepare me for an amazing encounter with one of our Iraqi interpreters.

You can hear this story by listening to the recorded podcast. And you can read many more stories in the book, Safest Place in Iraq, which is available on this website or at any bookstore.

Safest Place in Iraq is a collection of inspiring stories showing what God was doing in some people’s lives during the war in Iraq. It’s perfect for individual reading, small group, discussion, or even in a classroom setting.

Feel free to contact me through the Connect page above, or by leaving a comment below, and tell me what you think.

Fourth Man in the Fire

This past summer, Randy Zachary of Family Radio interviewed me on his radio show. He then edited it into three audio segments and one video. You can see the video of the interview by scrolling to the bottom right of this screen. The third audio clip is the shortest, and is titled the Fourth Man in the Fire. The focus of this segment is on being true to your faith and to the Lord, because wherever you are and whatever is going on, the Lord will be there with you .

Randy and I were discussing my new book titled Safest Place in Iraq. Towards the end of the book, I mention that Camp Echo was about 73 miles from the old city of Babylon where Daniel was thrown into the pit of lions, and where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were tossed into the flames.

The audio (mp3) is about a minute and thirteen seconds long. Feel free to contact me through the Connect page above, or by leaving a comment below, and tell me what you think.

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