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Chaplain’s service in Iraq abounds with faith & miracles

NORFOLK, VA. (BP)–Sitting on the ramp of a military vehicle on the lawn of Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace, Lance Corporal Jeff Guthrie’s eyes welled with tears that streamed down his muddy face.

He had just stormed the gates of the palace in a gruesome fight with his fellow Marines and claimed victory.

Lt. Carey Cash, a chaplain with his battalion, saw Guthrie’s distraught face and walked up to him.

Cash, in a new book, “A Table in the Presence” released April 7, takes his readers onto the hot, dusty, Iraq battlefield to learn how God worked miracles and answered prayers in individual lives of Marines like Guthrie.

“Sitting down on the grass in front of him, I asked what was wrong,” Cash writes in the book, recalling a few life-changing moments spent with Guthrie.

“‘Sir … I’m, I’m just so sorry,’ he said, tears welling up in his tired eyes.

“‘Sorry for what, Guthrie?’ I had no idea what he was talking about.

“‘It’s just what I’ve done in my life. All I can think about is that I’ve just been through the worst experience of my life, and yet, God protected me through it all. But why did He do it? How could He do it after all the things — the bad things — I’ve done? I don’t know what else to say, what else to feel. I’m just so sorry.’

“By now the tears were streaming down his face,” Cash continues. “Guthrie’s fellow Marines, all twenty of them who were seated around the same ramp, stopped everything. They were listening intently, watching everything. He and I could both feel their gaze, but it didn’t matter. He was overcome. …

“I was looking into the face of a man, who, for the first time in his life, was truly encountering the power of God. ‘Jeff,’ I said gently. ‘Do you realize that God sent His Son Jesus for no other purpose than for forgiving all those things you or I have ever done wrong in life…?’

“He nodded. …

“‘Jeff, do you believe that God loves you and that He sent His Son Jesus to die for you?’

“‘Yes, I do,’ he said, his voice broken and trembling.

“‘And do you want to experience the joy and peace of knowing that all your sins are completely and forever forgiven?’

“‘I do,’ he answered.

“‘Then why don’t you bow in prayer with me right here right now? Ask God to do just that — to send His Son Jesus into your heart and life and cleanse you from all your sin and give to you the promise of heaven.’

“We bowed together as twenty watching Marines stared in disbelief.

“Our prayer together was brief, but it was rich with life and meaning. For there on the lawn of Saddam Hussein’s Presidential Palace [in Baghdad], Lance Corporal Jeff Guthrie, a man who had wandered the path of the prodigal son for years, who had avoided God because of his fear of what others might think, who had spent all he had searching for happiness, meaning, and fulfillment, bowed his head.”

The next day, April 13, 2003, Cash baptized Guthrie in the palace.

Cash wrote, “… I baptized Jeff Guthrie, a new creation, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As the waters of baptism poured over his head and onto the marble floors of the palace, the symbolism wasn’t lost on anyone. Here we were in the inner chamber of a place known for oppression and tyranny, vice and unspeakable cruelty. Yet that Sacrament proclaimed to us all the greatest freedom and victory that a man can experience. There before our eyes, the courts of evil had become nothing less than the courts of the Lord. A place that had been known for the presence of darkness and treachery had become a place of the presence of God — a table in the presence.”

Cash walked around the palace grounds hearing of God’s glory.

“The day after April 10, called the worst day of fighting by Oliver North, I listened to tough and gruff Marines recount how God had protected them,” Cash, 33, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, wrote. “I’m usually the one talking, but that day I kept stumbling on men who wanted to tell me about how they experienced a miracle. Some of these men had never darkened a door of a church. But they knew God had been with them and no one could convince them otherwise. They had experienced miracles.”

Before his tour was over, Cash had the privilege of baptizing 59 men in his battalion.

“I watched God use that environment to behold His Son,” Cash told Baptist Press. “It was awesome.”

On the eve of March 20, Cash met with the command staff for the last time before they took the first U.S. troops from the safety of their camp in Kuwait across the Iraq border at the beginning of the war.

“After all the training, all the physical conditioning hikes, all the strategy sessions, all the intelligence briefs, all the live-fire rifle ranges, it had come to this — a decisive moment and a sincere prayer. We stood together in a circle, asking God for help, for strength and for courage,” he wrote in the first chapter of the book. “As we bowed together on that afternoon, the ancient words of a familiar Psalm came into my mind:

“‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…. (Psalm 23).'”

Cash’s book is named “A Table in the Presence” after the fifth verse of that Psalm, written by King David, a warrior himself in the Old Testament.

“The ‘table’ that David spoke about, the ‘table’ that David longed for in the presence of his enemies, was the table of God’s presence,” Cash wrote in the book. “It amounted to a feast of spiritual strength and friendship that no degree of danger and no amount of evil could infringe upon. We had been invited to a table hosted by God’s empowering presence, to taste of the miraculous Power that only He could offer. Indeed, it was a most unexpected feast.”

Cash said he feels he was called by God to sit at this table. He was the older of two children who grew up as “Navy brats.” His father was a career Navy pilot who served in several wars and his father-in-law, an ordained Baptist minister and Navy chaplain, helped mold him into who he is today.

“I feel like trials in my life that strengthened my faith a few years prior to my entering the military really prepared me to be a chaplain,” Cash said in a telephone interview from Norfolk, Va., where he moved in April to serve as chaplain on the USS San Jacinto.

After graduating from Citadel College in South Carolina on a football scholarship, Cash was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He encountered God face to face during that time seeking to know Him better when he felt called to ministry. He entered seminary, served as pastor of a small church for two years and then with the help of a medical release from one of his doctors was accepted as a chaplain with the Navy. While serving at Camp Pendleton in California, Cash was called to overseas duty with the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment.

When his battalion returned in June 2003 to Camp Pendleton, several trusted friends suggested that he write a book recounting the miracles he had witnessed in Iraq.

“I started thinking about what happened and it was like a fire in my bones,” Cash, who admits the writing was therapy for him, told Baptist Press. “It became an issue of stewardship and obedience to write this.

“There are a few things I want people to know after reading this book,” Cash continued. “As I wrote I reflected on where we were as a nation. It’s our greatest time of upheaval and a lot of people are uncertain about life and their faith. If ever a generation needed God to show Himself to them, this is it. Performing these miracles shows God is still here, He is a rock no matter what and He is not constrained by evil. He chose the war events to demonstrate His power and glory. With the power He has to raise the dead and part the Red Sea, He can protect us. There is hope and security.”

Cash also wants the collective church to know their work is not done.

“I want to send a clear message to not cease praying for our soldiers and their salvation and protection,” said Cash, who felt the prayers of many church members who wrote him letters. “We need to be on our knees daily, like the church was a year ago praying the Psalms, protection and a shield around our soldiers so that righteousness will prevail.”

Cash encourages churches to continue sending letters and packages to military personnel overseas.

“When the mail truck arrived, it was life to many soldiers to hear that someone was praying for angels to go ahead of them,” Cash told Baptist Press.

Over half of the same men Cash served with last year in the 1st Battalion are now back in Fallujah, Iraq, where the fiercest battles have taken place and a number of Marines have been killed.

In the 230-page book, Cash details miracle after miracle experienced through the first days of fighting in Iraq. The first printing of 28,000 books sold out in the first two weeks available.

Among the instances he recounts:

— One Marine was accidentally run over twice by a Humvee and walked away without a scratch or broken bone.

— Another Humvee full of soldiers was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that should have killed them all but struck the backpack of a soldier that was filled with a sleeping bag and warming-mat balled up. Although the pack was destroyed, it saved the lives of several men that day.

— Another soldier recounted a time when his life was spared as an Iraqi soldier looking straight at him and pointing his gun suddenly started waving at something frantically and ran. The Marine still doesn’t know what the Iraqi saw or was afraid of, but believes God was in it.

— During the convoy to the presidential palace, one amphibious assault vehicle was hit by an enemy grenade in the front window. One soldier instantly radioed for help knowing someone had to be hurt. But after a few minutes of inspection no one inside the vehicle was harmed.

— One lieutenant prayed for a direct hit with his last AT-4 missile in order to avoid the enemy turning their turret on them and killing 15 vulnerable Marines. God answered his prayer and saved all of the Marines.

— Cash and his companion soldier got lost in the convoy formation three times because of wind storms that prevented them from seeing 10-15 feet ahead of them. But God showed them the way back.

— Other vehicles in the middle of a long convoy to the presidential palace took a wrong turn and started doubling back on themselves. God used it to confuse the enemy and they were able to find their way back into formation.

Cash learned that God does not need a sanctuary of religious “things” for worship.

With a portable pulpit containing a cross, a goblet and communion bread, he moved from Humvee to AAV using a tailgate, an ammunition box or meal ration box as platforms for worship services.

He remembered one worship service during which 20 men gathered along the Tigris River with rifles in hand. As he finished the closing praying and began to say “Go in peace,” a barrage of gunfire penetrated the air. It was a suicide attempt of seven Iraqi men in a truck ready to take out the Marine checkpoint.

“We all knew that something more than our own watchfulness, strength and courage was protecting and defending us from our enemy,” Cash wrote in the book.

One worship service Cash will never forget was with a young soldier who said he hadn’t been to church in a while. “I’m from a Christian tradition that worships on Saturdays rather than Sundays,” the soldier explained. “Since it’s Saturday night, I was wondering if you and me, just the two of us, could do church together?”

Cash’s heart melted.

“I quickly grabbed my Bible, pocket devotional, and red-lens flashlight, and the two of us, huddling together in the back of Dr. Trivedi’s combat ambulance, worshiped God,” Cash wrote. “As we bowed in prayer in that darkened and cramped compartment, my soul was flooded with the awareness that we might as well have been in the world’s most beautiful cathedral. It didn’t matter. There we were, only two of us, filthy — neither of us had taken a shower in at least two weeks. We were turning the torn pages of a mud-stained Bible. The only light we had to guide our reading was the dim red glow of a flashlight the size of a pen. But for us that ambulance was holy ground because we were in the presence of God.

“I worshiped with filthy, bloody, scared soldiers who sang Amazing Grace and Lord, I Lift Your Name on High a cappella. Danger magnifies the presence of God. God seemed to be using the very chaos of war to provide stark contrast with the peace and assurance that He brings through His Son Jesus.”

Cash, his wife, Charity, and their five children are committed to the military as their mission field, Cash told Baptist Press.

“The soldiers are our people group,” said Cash, who hopes to author more books on different subjects relating to ministry. “We are commissioned by the North American Mission Board as home missionaries.”

He writes in his last chapter titled, “Semper Fidelis,” “The truth is, whether we are infantrymen in Baghdad or civilians safe in our own hometowns, all of us need to claim this victory as our own, because in the end, we all face the same enemies. Fear, worry, doubt, discouragement, despair, temptation, the rising power of unbelief — these things attack us constantly. They are often just as destructive, just as fierce, and just as unrelenting as evil men lurking in the streets of Baghdad. And if God can deliver an isolated, cut-off battalion of U.S. Marine surrounded by enemies, He can deliver us from the enemies that assail us in our daily lives.

“‘Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.'”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ENLISTING DIVINE HELP, NO MATTER THE ENVIRONMENT, PROPER PREPARATION, ‘A TABLE IN THE PRESENCE,’ and LT. CAREY CASH.

    About the Author

  • Kelli Cottrell