ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Southern Baptist military chaplains in the Middle East are reporting a swell of spiritual interest among troops preparing for war — including capacity crowds at chapel services and numerous professions of faith.
It’s a familiar pattern in times of impending crisis, one that is welcomed by chaplains.
“Now is a golden opportunity to reach soldiers for Christ. I am witnessing all the time and it is the soldiers who want to talk about God and their faith,” said Maj. Keith Kilgore, a Southern Baptist U.S. Army chaplain currently based in Kuwait.
“We worship in chapel but the real evangelism takes place everywhere — in the laundry, the mess hall, and the barbershop, the motor pool and sleep tent,” he said. “All I have to do is show up, and someone wants to talk to me about Jesus.”
In e-mail reports to friends and prayer partners, Kilgore reported five individuals accepted Christ one Sunday following a sermon on “Why Should God Bless America?”
Other e-mail reports from Southern Baptist chaplains describe as many as 19 soldiers accepting Christ during one chapel service. In another service, 63 soldiers reportedly were baptized in the Persian Gulf.
A recent Washington Post article on the upsurge of spiritual interest gives a firsthand report from one of Kilgore’s services in the desert. A khaki tent is regularly packed beyond its capacity of 150, the article said, with some worshipers standing outside and listening through canvas walls.
“It’s the best ministry I’ve ever had,” Kilgore told The Post. “When soldiers are about to face combat, they start getting spiritual. They want to get right with God.”
Navy chaplain Darren Stennett, another Southern Baptist, told The Post he had been carrying around for a year a specially designed plastic liner that can be placed in a hole in the sand to make a temporary baptistery. He now has opportunities to use it.
Maj. Timothy Bedsole, a Southern Baptist Army chaplain also based in Kuwait, relayed a description of a typical chapel service as written by his commander, Col. Mike Biering.
“There was a feeling of sensory overload as the service began amongst the outside sounds of heavy engineer equipment, the sound of helicopter rotor blades and truck traffic moving supplies for the soldiers further north — and oh yes, a starting round of praise music complete with two soldiers playing guitar,” Biering wrote. “It was some of the sweetest music I have ever heard. In this strange and far away place, we worshiped our God.”
The contrasts are equally striking on board U.S. Navy ships in the region. Southern Baptist Navy chaplain Nick Hamilton described the scene on board the USS Nimitz.
“Many people have asked me what my routine is like onboard an aircraft carrier. That’s difficult to say,” he wrote. “How can anything be routine in a place that has an airport on the roof and two nuclear power plants in the basement. What I do know is that when I go out onto the flight deck at night, and feel the cold wind and jet blast; hear the afterburners, and look into the faces of sailors who have been working for more than 16 hours; then feel the tap of someone’s hand on my shoulder because they just noticed the reflective cross on my back; and hear them say something like ‘Chaps, its good to see you up here, thanks for praying for us,’ I know that God has brought me to this place for a reason.”
Southern Baptist chaplain Michael D. Brown, writing from his stateroom aboard the cruiser USS Anzio, said the Holy Spirit is moving “in a dynamic and vibrant life-transforming way.”
“Attendance in Bible studies and worship services has increased twofold,” he said. “Perhaps this is due in a large part to the insecurity of not knowing what the future holds, but I’d rather believe that these men and women are coming to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.”
For more information on chaplaincy ministry, visit www.namb.net/chaplain. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: KEEPING THE FAITH IN KUWAIT.