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Camouflage-covered devotional book making its way through the ranks

ATLANTA (BP)–With a camouflage cover over its life-changing message, 100,000 copies of an “Experiencing God Day-by-Day” military edition have been placed in soldiers’ hands, with another 50,000-plus copies on the way.

The special military edition of the devotional book was released by B&H Publishing Group (formerly Broadman & Holman) last December. Thirty thousand copies were distributed to Army chaplains in Iraq, while chaplains at 40 military installations and hospitals around the nation also received copies, reported Jim Redford, administrator for Blackaby Ministries International.

The special edition followed two messages Henry Blackaby delivered to 210 Army chaplains during a meeting in Atlanta in April 2005.

The longtime Southern Baptist spiritual leader was a last-minute substitute for Anne Graham Lotz, who had to travel to Rome to represent her father -– evangelist Billy Graham -– at Pope John Paul II’s funeral.

“They were really hurting,” Blackaby said of the chaplains. “They had seen so much and felt so much. They’re the ones at the morgue. They’re the ones who tell the families [of fatalities]. So it was a huge moment for me to feel the pain and the need for a word from the Lord.”

During his time with the chaplains, Blackaby said the chief of Army chaplains, David Hicks, noted how much the devotional book had affected his life.

Later, several other chaplains told Blackaby if he could get it printed as a small paperback with a camouflage cover, they would like 100,000 copies.

Those comments touched off an impromptu fundraising campaign. Blackaby Ministries raised $250,000 to pay for the first printing, with a sizable sum raised through a group of chief executive officers with whom Blackaby meets regularly.

“What was amazing to me was how quickly we did that,” said Lou Juliano, who retired last year from ITT Industries. “But these were people who all knew Henry Blackaby and had benefited from his teaching.”

Printing the books cost $176,000, with much of the rest of the donations needed to pay for shipping.

When Hicks noted how meaningful the devotional book had been and others requested copies, Blackaby said he recognized that God was about to do something special.

“Anytime you put something in the hands of anybody that has the potential of transforming lives, there’s no limit what God can do,” Blackaby said. “There’s no limit to where I can put one.

“I’ve had people say their lives have been radically transformed by that daily devotional as much as by the Experiencing God book. It has that potential of setting people free no matter what it is they’re doing.”

Chaplain Val Van Dress, at Fort Lewis, Wash., and one of those who suggested the special printing, noticed the popularity of Christian literature while serving in Iraq two years ago.

“The Daily Bread [devotional] was big; ‘Purpose-Driven Life’ was big,” she said. “They didn’t stay on the shelf. They would be gone and people would say, ‘Chaplain, do you have anything for me to read?’”

Ironically, Van Dress had been holding on to the Blackaby devotionals she received in anticipation of being redeployed to Iraq, but she subsequently received orders to remain stateside for career training.

Van Dress then started giving away copies this spring, first to a single mother who had been having a rough time. The chaplain suggested they look at that day’s entry. It was about choices and spoke to the situation the soldier was facing.

“I will give it out to everyone who comes into my office for counseling,” Van Dress said. “I love Henry Blackaby’s stuff. I did a single-soldier retreat with his material last year on the seven realities [of experiencing God].”

Chaplain Keith Belz, who works at Fort Lewis’ soldier readiness processing center, said he has given away 20 cases of the devotional this year. Two-thirds have gone to soldiers reporting for overseas duty and a third to those returning, Belz said.

“What happened with several soldiers is they’ve said, ‘I’ve got to get two or three more for my buddies,’” Belz said. “Word’s getting out. The soldiers seem to like it.”

A number of people are forming small discussion groups to review the devotional book before leaving for Iraq so they will have a “battle buddy” reading the same material, the longtime chaplain said.

Belz likes the devotional’s uplifting nature, which he said often touches those who have grown lukewarm but, in a crisis situation, renew their interest in God.

“It helps me as a chaplain tremendously,” Belz said. “My experience is the first six weeks they’re too busy do anything and then comes a lull. There’s a period where they have nothing to do. If I get literature in their hands, I know they’ll read it.”

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Chaplain John Kallerson said his staff received many expressions of appreciation after distributing 1,500 copies.

“We’ve had a great response between patients, staff and family, particularly family members because they’re setting at the bedsides for days on end,” said Kallerson, the senior clinical chaplain. “The topics touch their hearts.”

Co-authored by Blackaby and his oldest son, Richard, and originally released in 1998, the 365-day devotional was a followup to the popular Experiencing God study that emphasizes seeing where God is at work and joining Him.

The ministry hopes to continue printing the devotionals as donations permit. Chaplains interested in receiving copies to distribute to soldiers can contact Blackaby Ministries International at www.blackaby.org or P.O. Box 16338, Atlanta, GA 30321. Contributions toward additional printings of the book also can be mailed to the ministry or made online; designate “Military Day by Day.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker