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From the Pentagon to Saudi Arabia, chaplain recounts unfolding ministry

WASHINGTON (BP)–It’s not unusual for Chaplain Capt. Jason Peters to walk through a series of Humvees armed with 50-caliber machine guns just to get to his office every morning. That’s because he is stationed at the Pentagon in Washington, where he ministers to more than 5,000 Air Force personnel.

“Since the attacks of 9/11, we have been issued and trained with emergency escape masks and emergency evacuation procedures,” said Peters, a 1998 Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate. “They reside on my desk and remain a daily reminder of the world we now live in.”

Peters said he never would have fathomed the tragic attack upon the Pentagon, nor the changes the 9/11 attacks would bring to his ministry.

A stained glass window where relatives can dedicate sections in memory of the 184 individuals killed at the Pentagon was dedicated in the memorial chapel, which marks the hijacked plane’s point of impact. Several dignitaries, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, attended the dedication service, which was broadcast live on CNN, FOX and C-Span. Peters read Scripture and led music during the service. The stained glass window was dedicated in the chapel. “What an honor and excitement it was to see God’s Word proclaimed in these types of contexts,” Peters said. “The assembly of the stained glass window by those who had lost loved ones was a very solemn event, and it really promoted healing among the troops.”

Reflecting on events that unfolded after his arrival at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, Peters recounted, “As part of my current assignment at Bolling AFB, I helped with the first group following the attacks on the Pentagon. That afternoon and well into the evening, we worked, and I was able to personally counsel and minister to the police and firefighters following the tragedy.”

Peters said his present Pentagon assignment has given him ample opportunities to minister, most recently in conjuction with the war in Iraq.

“There has been a different temperature and tension in the offices,” he said. “With coworkers and fellow service men and women deploying, it has been challenging. It hasn’t changed my ministry and work directly, but I have been counseling and caring for many more family members of currently deployed personnel.”

Deployment and time away from family are not foreign concepts for Peters and his fellow chaplains. “I have been fortunate in only having been apart from my family for approximately six months at most,” Peters said of the varied assignments that keep him mobile, having taken him to numerous USAF military installations around the world.

“I enjoy my current assignment and the military deployments the most,” he said. “The incredible diversity and opportunities that come from them are endless. Not many ministers get the ability to fly on cargo aircraft and ride to work in a Humvee. Deployments incorporate so much flexibility and allow me to work in the field with the troops and minister.”

Peters is accustomed to the dynamic of a military and ministry family after having grown up in one himself. His father, Loren Peters — a retired combat engineer who served in Vietnam — now is pastor of Faith Bible Church in Sacramento, Calif.

“I received the calling to be a chaplain when I was 12 years old,” Peters said, recounting the influence of a former Army chaplain who served in Vietnam. “I knew then I wanted to be a chaplain and to serve in ministry,” he said. Commissioned by the USAF in 1997, Peters began his military service at Whiteman AFB, near Knob Noster, Mo.

Peters’ responsibilities at the Pentagon include counseling and discipleship programs and leading weekly worship services. Peters said it is a continual challenge to maintain his chaplain duties and fulfill his military obligations.

“A tricky part to ministering as a chaplain is balancing the focus on God’s value of ministry and not becoming consumed with the programs or other quantitative value the military places upon my day-in and day-out work,” Peters said.

“God values relationships and ministry work, which may not necessarily align visibly with the quantitative measurements the military places on my work and efforts.”

One measurement of his work came last year when he participated in the baptism of 19 new believers while stationed at Diego Garcia, a 13-square-mile island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. He also baptized several new believers at the Prince Sultan Air Base near Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia, in 1999.

“What an unbelievable experience!” Peters said. “I felt so small. I was standing waist deep in the Indian Ocean, literally halfway around the world, with probably 100 people on the beach watching as I baptized 19 believers. As American Christians, our understanding of God is so limited to our context. This experience clearly demonstrated that our God is working in powerful ways around the universe.

“God strategically placed me there at that precise moment to help these believers in their journey of discipleship. I am still in touch with some of them to this day and they are growing fantastically — what a blessing,” Peters said.

Peters lives on Bolling AFB with his wife, Kimberly, and their three children: Brittany, 6; Wesley, 4; and Tiffany, 1.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: POST 9/11 AT PENTAGON, REMEMBERING, HEALING and CHAPLAIN CAPT. JASON PETERS.

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  • James Streicher