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Chaplains offer independence to those who fight for it


FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–While soldiers, sailors and airmen are lauded each July 4 for defending freedom on a daily basis, military chaplains fulfill the high duty of offering spiritual freedom to those who serve in the armed forces domestically and abroad.

“As chaplains, we deal in relationships,” said Army Chaplain Brandon Denning. “I never thought God would call me to be a missionary,” he said of the missionary opportunity to a unique people group.

“The military is often a culture that is overlooked as far as missions is concerned, and yet it is one of the biggest missionary fields we’ve got out there,” Denning said. “We’ve got soldiers who need the Lord.”

In 1996, Denning became the 453rd sentinel to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. He served in the highly honored post for four years, conducting more than 700 walks before receiving an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. After leaving the military, he never thought he would return.

However, while attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for a master of divinity with a concentration in pastoral counseling, Denning felt the Lord leading him toward military chaplaincy. His experience as a volunteer fire chaplain played a part as did an injury to a friend in Iraq. Upon graduation, he reported for active duty to the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., June 6.

Justin Woods, president of Southwestern’s chaplain fellowship, spoke of the dangers and duty of chaplains during Denning’s chaplain commissioning May 9 at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus.

“On the battlefield, it’s a real battle with real enemies that fire real guns with real bullets,” said Woods, who was commissioned at Southwestern in June for chaplaincy service in the Air Force. “We’re there to provide real answers and real hope with a real Gospel.”

Michael Duncan*, a master of divinity student at Southwestern, was commissioned into the Navy chaplain program as a reserve officer on May 2. Coming from a lineage of military and chaplain service, Duncan’s grandfather served as a Navy chaplain and his father served in the Air Force for 18 years before becoming a pastor.

“I always knew the military would be part of my life, but when God called me to ministry, I kind of wasn’t sure what direction I’d go,” Duncan said of his calling at age 12. Now, sensing that God has prepared him both experientially and ministerially for the chaplaincy, Duncan said, “He’s really given me a love to build relationships with people and, out of that, to give them guidance and help them find Christ.”

Tom Vann, associate professor of pastoral ministry and a retired Army chaplain, said Southwestern has a strong chaplaincy program and has seen several graduates serve in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years.

“Southwestern has a reputation for training high quality military chaplains,” Vann said, adding that between 20 and 30 Southwestern students each year are involved with the Army, Navy or Air Force as chaplain candidates.

Southwestern’s illustrious history of veteran service and chaplaincy ministry dates back to its founding president, B.H. Carroll, who fought in the Civil War in the 17th Volunteer Texas Infantry Regiment and was severely wounded at the Battle of Mansfield, La., in 1864. The seminary’s third president, J. Howard Williams, served as an Army chaplain in Europe during World War I. For the past 100 years, hundreds of Southwesterners have served as military chaplains, taking the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ to life-threatening battlefields around the world. For more about Southwestern’s chaplaincy heritage, visit www.swbts.edu/chaplaincy.
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*Name changed
Keith Collier is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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  • Keith Collier