ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Two-star U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Douglas L. Carver, the Army’s chief of chaplains, had a surprise for the 200 people who attended the annual Southern Baptist Convention chaplain’s luncheon June 14 in Orlando, Fla.
Carver, who has reached the heights of military achievement, played the piano and sang.
Based at the Pentagon, Carver in 2007 was the first Southern Baptist chaplain promoted to the chief of chaplains post since the Truman era.
“There’s something about worship that ambushes a crowd,” said Carver, who played and sang the praise songs “I Worship You” and “There Is None Like You.” “It gets our hearts engaged for the Lord.”
The Rome, Ga., native has served as a chaplain since 1984 and as an Army officer for 37 years. Carver is responsible for 2,700 Army chaplains now deployed around the world, dozens in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The North American Mission Board is the endorsing agency for Southern Baptists to the United States military. NAMB sponsors the annual luncheon in appreciation of chaplains who serve in settings such as the military, prisons, hospitals, corporate locations and in disaster relief. Currently, there are 3,479 NAMB-endorsed chaplains serving throughout the world.
Carver thanked Southern Baptists for their prayers for members of the armed services.
“It’s a tough time in which we live,” he said. “Chaplaincy is a tough business. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard are in some very difficult places, especially as the war heats up in Afghanistan and as we draw down in Iraq.
“The Iraq/Afghanistan War is now the longest war the United States has ever fought in recent history, surpassing Vietnam. But over the last nine years, God has blessed us. We haven’t suffered extraordinary casualties — although if it’s your son or daughter, it is extraordinary.”
Carver said the United States has recorded 5,500 American soldiers killed in action in Iraq since 2001 and 1,000 killed in Afghanistan. Some 30,000 Americans have been wounded, while more than 1,700 have had amputated limbs. Hundreds of thousands suffer from post-traumatic stress and brain injuries.
“The war is taking its toll on our Army — the high tempo, the frequent deployments and the separations from loved ones. Marriages have suffered. Soldiers are responding to the pain with drugs and alcohol,” Carver said.
There is growing concern about increased infidelity in the soldier ranks, he said, and suicides are at an all-time high in the Army, with 160 documented in 2009.
“Over the last five years, we’ve even lost chaplains and chaplain assistants to suicide,” Carver said. “Despite this negative picture, I have never seen members of the armed services with as much determination, grit and perseverance in their hearts and lives. They’re hopeful and enthusiastic. They are gung ho and pressing on with the mission.”
Although they are burning their candles at both ends, Carver said God is “raising up some of the finest men and women I’ve ever seen in my life, and some of the finest young chaplains that the North American Mission Board has ever sent to the military.”
But, he added, “The true unsung heroes of this war on global terror we have fought for nine years are the family members — those who have kept the home fires burning, done single-parenting and have taken care of the household chores while the chaplains have gone down-range.”
Carver thanked the North American Mission Board for a series of “resiliency retreats” that have been offered to military chaplains and their spouses.
“I assure you that these retreats around the world are making a difference in the lives and resiliency of our chaplains,” Carver said. “In some cases, they’re saving marriages and preventing family difficulties. It’s also saving the lives of some our chaplains, who themselves may sometimes think self-destructive thoughts.”
Carver recited the soldier’s motto: “I will place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will not quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
“We chaplains must persevere,” he said. “Our faith is being tested and tried. These are the days when spiritual leaders — like our chaplains — must stand the test, press on, be reliable, be authentic, be men and women of integrity and maintain spiritual stamina.”
Carver was joined at the luncheon by Sunny, his wife of 37 years, also of Rome, Ga. The high school sweethearts have two daughters and four grandchildren.
Sunny, commenting on what it’s like to be a chaplain’s wife, said, “It’s a calling, and I say that to all the younger military spouses I talk to.” When God calls a spouse, she said, “… you also are being called. God gives us the grace to let them go to serve where He calls them to be and gives us the strength to endure those many long days when we don’t have our husbands with us. It’s been a wonderful journey, and I’ve seen God’s hand on us every step of the way.”
Following the general’s speech, the luncheon audience witnessed as Derek Kaiser of Hickory, N.C., took the oath from Carver as a staff officer in the Army. Kaiser is a chaplain candidate with the North Carolina Army Reserves until he completes his degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Outgoing SBC President Johnny Hunt expressed his appreciation to the chaplains as did former SBC Presidents Frank Page and Bobby Welch.
Prior to Carver’s remarks, NAMB’s interim president, Richard Harris, told the group, “I can tell you that we could not be doing what we’re doing to reach the world with the Gospel without our military, institutional, law enforcement and corporate chaplains.
“While we’ve been debating and discussing the Great Commission over the last year, our chaplains have been doing the Great Commission,” Harris said.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.