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Criswell College grad sees 60-plus come to Christ during stay in Iraq

IRAQ (BP)–As a student at Criswell College, Brian Waite received the same mandate every other student is given.

“Everyone must hear the Gospel, and we must do all that is within our power to be the bearers of this wonderful Good News,” Waite said.

He carried that zeal for evangelism to the churches he pastored in the Texas towns of Tioga, Celina and DeSoto. It was a part of his reason for enlisting in the Navy as a chaplain, serving in Okinawa, Japan and later Groton, Conn.

In 2002 Waite was serving as pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma when the Navy contacted him to see if he would consider returning to active duty.

“After much prayer and consideration, my family and I felt strongly convicted that this would be where God would have us at this time in our life,” Waite said, adding that he felt extremely honored to be asked to return even though it meant a pay cut and change of lifestyle from the position he held at the 3,600-member Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

Waite returned to active duty with the 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejeune, N.C., assigned as the command chaplain for the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. Last November he became deputy division chaplain for the entire camp, serving about 17,000 Marines and sailors.

By February of this year, Waite was tapped by the general’s staff to replace a returning chaplain. Just as the unit was preparing for combat, Waite flew to Kuwait to join the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, a unit that would see some of the heaviest fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Regimental Combat Team Two suffered more than 80 casualties, and 22 of the soldiers died from severe wounds.

Waite expressed amazement at the great freedom he has been given to move between units at will and share the Gospel with all who would listen. The arduous living conditions and constant threat of conflict often motivate a
greater openness to the message Waite delivers. More than 60 soldiers accepted
Christ as Savior within a four-month period, he said.

On Easter Sunday the Criswell College alumnus baptized 60 service members in the Tigris River in Iraq.

“We were still in the midst of hostilities,” Waite recalled, “having to flank both sides of our position in the river with gun trucks and armed guards.”

Despite their efforts to keep a low profile during the baptismal service, a journalist heard about the event and appeared on the scene.

“He was so intrigued by the numbers and the spirit of the individuals involved that he asked, ‘What does it mean to be baptized?'” Waite said.

The journalist’s interest reminded Waite of the Ethiopian eunuch’s questioning of Philip.

“I had the great opportunity to preach to him Jesus,” he added. “Before it was all said and done, he was our 61st baptism.”

The new converts are being discipled. Waite offers daily Bible studies and individual counseling sessions. A class was offered prior to baptism for those who made professions of faith. Waite said he turned 20 people away who did not seem ready to make such a commitment.

Upon their return to the United States, new believers will be integrated into local Bible-believing churches, Waite said, in order to have a spiritual support system beyond their military unit.

“I live with these people 24/7. Their bosses let me walk into their workspaces as a fellow employee. I have free reign,” Waite explained. “In fact, it is not uncommon for an entire work section to ask me to come and speak with them concerning a specific concern or moral dilemma. Most military officers have come to the conclusion that the more connected their service members are with God, the better Marine or sailor they will become.”

The opportunity to reach “those who are at an even greater risk of losing their lives and meeting their maker” had a lot to do with Waite’s willingness to return to military duty. Recently he prepared a plaque to honor the men and women who gave their lives over a four-month period.

Now that Waite has boarded a ship for the return trip home, e-mail communications provide constant communication for him and his wife and their two sons, ages 14 and 11. The eldest is considering enlisting when he finishes high school.

“Maybe this is why I can’t help but see all these Marines and sailors as my own,” Waite said. “My lovely wife, Kathy, and my two wonderful boys, Nick and Michael, have been a vital part of the ministry every step of the way.”

Having served as pastor of churches of all sizes, from a membership of 50 to more than 3,600, and ministering in circumstances ranging from the military to the mission field of the Philippines, Waite said, “Each has its blessings as well as its heartaches. I think ministry is ministry no matter where you make your home.”

Waite said he owes part of his concern for evangelism to the training he received at Criswell College.

“It was ingrained in every one of us, from the street preaching to the mission trips,” he said. “For me, the Great Commission is an ongoing mission of sharing the Gospel wherever he leads, whether that be in the affluence of the Oklahoma suburbs or the deserts of war.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BAPTIZING IN THE DESERTS OF WAR.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter