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Chaplain likens desert journey to that of Abraham, Moses


SOUTHERN IRAQ (BP)–In 120-degree heat with wind tossing about sand like “baby powder” in Iraq, John Denton, a Southern Baptist chaplain, said his journey has caused him to reflect on Abraham and Moses and their “journey in the desert — walking by faith with God.”

“I ponder and reflect on what men of faith these were — to trust in God with their lives and with the outcome of their existence,” Denton wrote in an e-mail published by the Florida Baptist Witness in early May.

Ministering to coalition forces, to enemy prisoners of war and to displaced Iraqi civilians is all part of a day’s work for Denton, who as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Chaplains Corps, serves as the command chaplain of Fleet Hospital Three in southern Iraq.

“The opportunities for ministry have been rich and rewarding,” the North American Mission Board-endorsed chaplain wrote. “I’ve walked with people after their surgery, played guitar for injured children, held the hand of a Marine as I prayed for him before his surgery, and stood close to the enemy as I looked into his eyes and offered a smile.”

It is a “joy” to minister to all the people regardless of their native land or faith, Denton, a member of Myrtle Grove Baptist Church in Pensacola, wrote. “Each of these people have basic spiritual needs,” he noted. “It is my aim to daily share the love, kindness, mercy and grace of Jesus Christ with those around me.”

In sharing his faith, Denton described “fox-hole religion” as one of the challenges chaplains face in a combat zone. Relating an incident that occurred while he and other military personnel were sitting in a bunker under enemy attack, Denton told of someone who said, “We’ll be OK in this bunker … the chaplain is in here with us.”


Denton replied, “Thanks, but I’m not a good-luck charm. You need the same thing that I need in this bunker — a life-changing, life-sustaining relationship with the God who cares for us and is able to see us through this war and the rest of eternity.”

Sustaining and fostering an interest in spiritual matters after the enemy threat has ended is the real challenge, Denton related. To his surprise, some Christians in his unit regularly volunteer to meet the challenge by conducting “vibrant” Bible studies, outreach programs and worship services.

“The Lord has raised up an army of saints to faithfully labor in this particular vineyard,” Denton wrote.

The Navy Chaplain Corps motto, Denton said, sums up his service overseas: “Provide for your own; facilitate for others; care for all.” He added, it is a “privilege to serve as a Southern Baptist” chaplain in the Navy.

With 14 years of Navy service, Denton has been stationed in Mississippi, California, Washington, D.C., and Japan and he served in Operation Desert Storm. He and his wife, Beth, were married while they were upperclassmen at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach more than 15 years ago. After they both graduated, they went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where Denton earned a master of divinity degree.

Richard Hamel, minister of music at Myrtle Grove Baptist Church, said the Dentons are an “incredible” couple. Both dedicated church workers, Beth directs the children’s choir while John plays the piano and preaches when he is home.

“John has a heart for ministry,” Hamel said. “His life walks the example of Jesus as much as any man I know.”

Denton said it is difficult being away from his wife and their two children, whom he described as the “real heroes.”

However, the couple lives like thousands of Christian military families during Operation Iraqi Freedom — one spouse remains home while the other is deployed. Both trust God to provide for the other.

As any military wife, Beth faces the same problems other military wives have when the husband leaves — things break. Soon after John left, Beth said their car’s water pump died, the kitchen linoleum started to bubble up and a toilet broke.

Even with all the mini-disasters, Beth serves as one of two ombudsman or points of contact for about 300 Fleet Hospital families who have concerns. When the fleet deployed the week of March 13, she said she received about 50 calls a day for a week.

Although Beth said she was at peace about God’s care for her and the children, she had trouble learning to trust God “to be my Husband” and to trust Him while John was in harm’s way. Her anxiety for his safety was heightened watching the daily news reports from Iraq, she recounted.

“I found myself praying, but feeling a duty of worry,” Beth said. “I realized that I was praying, yet grabbing the situation back from the Lord and choosing to carry the burden.”

After receiving John’s first letter, Beth said she crossed a “spiritual hurdle.”

“I realized I had been trusting Jesus to be there for me, but I needed to also trust Him with my husband,” Beth said.

While John might be away for up to 12 months, he did not have anyone to pamper his “pride and joy” — a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. When they asked Bob Govoni, a friend from church, to consider caring for the bike, he looked “amazed” and gratefully accepted, Beth said.

Govoni told them that God had led him to sell his bike just two days before, and he “grieved” the loss, but wanted to be obedient to God, Beth recounted.

“God had planned all along that Bob would care for John’s Harley while he was overseas,” Beth said. “Like Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord was just checking priorities.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: COMFORTING A CASUALTY.