KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (BP) — U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Kevin Humphrey’s last quarterly report to the North American Mission Board’s chaplaincy group in Alpharetta, Ga., reads like the script of a Hollywood blockbuster.
But the combat incidents are real –- true wartime stories of battlefield death, horrific injury, bloodshed, bravery and close calls. If it was a movie, it could be titled “A day in the life of a Southern Baptist chaplain serving in Afghanistan.”
“It has been a very challenging time here in Kandahar,” said the 38-year-old NAMB-endorsed chaplain, who serves in the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing. “The dangers are very real and it weighs on the people’s minds here. Back in the summer, there were rocket attacks almost every two days or so and sometimes twice a day,” Humphrey said, adding that the attacks have slowed this fall.
Combat deaths in the region come so often that American flags never go more than four days without dropping to half-staff in honor of the fallen, Humphrey said.
Humphrey — one of about 190 military chaplains in the Afghanistan “theater,” as the military calls it — said Taliban forces in the area are constantly adapting their methods to inflict the most damage and death to U.S. and coalition forces.
“Several dangerous plots have been discovered — many of which can’t be discussed due to the sensitive security considerations. Needless to say, had they not been discovered, the loss of life would have been real and great,” Humphrey said.
One of Humphrey’s most recent “scares” came at the nearby base hospital where he was volunteering as chaplain so the Navy chaplain usually on duty could take a well-deserved day off. While Humphrey couldn’t reveal details because of security concerns, the incident came close to claiming his life and the lives of hospital personnel -– most of whom had never been so close to dying before.
“It’s brutal at the hospital and the ministry is tough. They’ve had many single, double or triple amputees come through in the last two months. The things you are exposed to there are things that no human being should have to see. But it is a powerful ministry to the staff and patients.”
The many dangers in Afghanistan come without warning, Humphrey said.
“During a recent rocket attack, a Department of Defense compound was hit,” Humphrey recounted. “Their chaplain was unavailable so I went and ministered to 250 shaken DOD army civilians.
“The building’s generator just happened to go out about 30 minutes prior to the rocket attack so only six people were in the building at the time it was hit. Had the generator not gone out, several people would have been killed. Thanks to God, only six had minor shrapnel injuries.
“I spoke with one man who couldn’t understand why he was not in the building at the time and didn’t die. I shared that God says in Hebrews we are appointed once to die and that our day of death has been fixed by God, and that God has a plan and purpose for our lives. While he is not yet a Christian, he is now seeking God for the first time in his life.”
Humphrey said he conducts seven combat services each week for his units.
“I have preached three times at contemporary services in the Army’s chapel,” said Humphrey, adding that the services are attended not only by American troops but also by soldiers from the coalition nations –- Brits, Canadians, Pakistani Christians and others. “It makes me think that this is what heaven will be like, with every tribe and nation.”
Eight people accepted Christ in the first service Humphrey preached recently, followed by 15 in the second service and three in the third.
Although Humphrey’s job as a chaplain is difficult because of the hostile and chaotic environment in Afghanistan — “there is real tension here and some take it much better than others” –- his ministry also is very rich.
“The very real presence of Christ has been here in the midst of difficulty,” Humphrey said. “Psalm 91 has become very real for me. I have not feared for my life since I have been here –- not because I think I’m brave but because Christ has been so present.”
When Humphrey is not carrying out his chaplain duties, he loves to meet and fellowship with other international chaplains serving in the coalition. On a recent day at a local donut shop, he met with Canadian, British, Dutch, Australian and other American chaplains. As they sat around sipping coffee and munching on donuts, they discussed the state of spirituality back in their home countries.
“A chill ran down my back,” Humphrey recounted. Taking turns, each chaplain –- with sadness in their hearts and voices -– began describing the deteriorating spiritual state of affairs back home, regardless of their nationality.
“The Dutch chaplain spoke of being in a post-Christian society. He described Dutch people who didn’t even know who Jesus is. Each chaplain gave a similarly negative report from his own nation.”
At Humphrey’s suggestion, the international chaplains now meet and pray every Monday at 11 a.m. (Afghanistan time) for God to move in each nation and to bless their ministries.
“I would ask that all Southern Baptists pray for us, that this might be the beginning of a Great Awakening movement,” he said. “I feel that the fact we chaplains finally got together is no accident. I feel it’s miraculous and one of the reasons God sent me here [to Afghanistan].”
Humphrey and wife Jennifer -– who’s back “home” at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan — are the parents of five children ranging in ages from 3-11. He graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, with a M.Div. degree in 2003, and pastored for three years prior to entering active duty as an Air Force chaplain. The son of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Humphrey of Amarillo, Texas, Humphrey is slated to serve in Afghanistan until January 2012 when he will be reassigned to Okinawa.
The National Bible Association, based in New York City, has just announced that Humphrey — out of 500 Air Force chaplains — is one of three 2011 recipients of the association’s prestigious Witherspoon Award, given annually to military chaplains representing the Army, Air Force and Navy. The award is given in cooperation with each U.S. military branch’s chief of chaplains and is named for the famous World War I and II chaplain, Maurice Witherspoon.
The award recognizes chaplains who “promote Bible reading in a very creative, unique and effective way and whose actions and day-to-day activities encourage others to read, study and apply the Bible’s principles to their lives.”
Since Humphrey is currently serving in Afghanistan, the association will present the award to his wife Jennifer, who will fly from Okinawa to New York City for the association’s annual awards gala dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on Nov. 17.
Representing the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board has more than more than 1,500 endorsed SBC chaplains serving in the military, which requires that all of its chaplains be endorsed and qualified by a recognized denomination. In all, 3,400 NAMB-commissioned and endorsed chaplains are ministering in institutions, the military, corporations, healthcare and public safety.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.
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