NORFOLK, Va. (BP)–“Tattoo, tattoo. Lights out in five minutes. Stand by for evening prayer….
“Let us pray….”
The call for prayer comes over the general announcing system, resounding throughout the ship, capturing the grace of God over the course of a day at sea, lifting up prayers to the sovereign Lord for continued safety in the days to come.
Even in the midst of operations — the sounds of helicopters streaming overhead for good portion of the day (and sometimes into the night), or firing weapons for practice, or drills that place a ship in combat mode — the Lord’s presence always seems near. He is the peace, inside the heart and within the rigors of the military existence.
The military, because of the pressures and rigors of preparation and the executing of operations meant for battle, often can seem to be a dark place. The interpersonal relationships, too, often can foster this darkness, due to a general brazenness and pessimistic outlook embodied by some who wear the uniform. But it is within this context that the Lord is even more ever-present because of the light He shines to overcome the gloom.
I had grown up in a Jewish home (both parents of Jewish blood) and it was only through a set of rock-bottom-like circumstances that I came humbly to God. An invitation to a youth night at a local church gave me a kick start in the journey with Jesus Christ.
I didn’t really discover the true essence of Jesus until I joined the military, joining just a few months after my first encounter with Him at that church with the youth night. The call of His light was so real to me in the first weeks of boot camp when I was facing constant yelling, constant belittling and so much self-doubt; it felt like I would get punished if I breathed the wrong way. But on Sunday we were able to go to church, which was a true sanctuary. The hymns, the message about Jesus taking our problems away, about His divine plan for our lives that went far beyond the walls of boot camp — these spoke volumes to my heart.
Such a juxtaposition between the hardships of military life and the redemption of Christ became the linchpin for my growth in Him.
The military is a true journey, where your location, your experiences continually are changing. You quite literally can never be stagnant.
It is in this essence of the military existence, in the absolute transient nature of things, that faith can be strengthened, not weakened. Strengthened by the continual Timothy and Barnabas-like figures who come across your path, as well as the various churches that are discovered along the way — each person, each body of Christ offering a unique and powerfully transforming nugget of truth.
I can recall so many of them. There was the Air Force chaplain who led weekly Bible studies at the technical school I attended; the culinary specialist (cook) who sat with me on the mess decks (ship cafeteria) while on an amphibious ship in the South China Sea, going over Scripture line by line until I completely understood what being reborn in the Spirit really meant; the house church where I worshipped while stationed in Japan, where both Japanese and Americans worshipped together, unified by Christ; the missionaries in Thailand who showed me what it meant to give one’s life for the Gospel as they distributed Bibles to Chinese tourists in the heart of Pattaya Beach; the Japanese pastor who I spent afternoons with, sipping green tea in his living room, hearing him carefully describe the narrative of God’s salvation, from Adam’s sin to Christ’s salvation and redemption of that sin; the chapel in Guam, where I was overwhelmed by the praise and worship emanating there; the Christian coffee house in Okinawa, where I experienced true fellowship and gained brothers in Christ who spoke words of truth as to what true righteousness is.
On an Easter Sunday as the sun is rising, an ensign aboard the USS Essex strums a soft melody as a gathering of believers sing praises. Though the ship is an hour away from leaving Busan, Republic of Korea, the focus is on the chaplain’s message of resurrection of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and how, because of that, each of us can defeat death.
Easter services, Sunday services, Bible studies — they are never the same on this military journey. They are usually spent within the rocking waves of the ocean.
While the scenes constantly change, while the environment is never the same, the overwhelming message of Jesus Christ and His power in our lives is always the same. It is that universality that gives assurance to His presence and claim on our lives.
So even with the ship rocking, with an early morning of operations approaching, believers can find peace in Him.
Adam R. Cole is a naval officer stationed aboard the Norfolk, Va.-based cruiser USS Normandy and a member of First Baptist Church in Norfolk. He has served with the Navy four years, first as an enlisted journalist and now as a surface warfare officer.