ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Eduardo Docampo was looking for more direct ministry and evangelism opportunities beyond his role as a denominational servant 12 years ago when he signed on as a chaplain with the Georgia National Guard.
As of the morning of Feb. 12, his uniformed ministry became more important than ever. The battalion he serves as chaplain was activated for service in the Middle East.
He is among many Southern Baptist chaplains — in active duty and reserve forces — who are finding their roles intensified as the United States inches closer to war against Iraq.
Docampo serves the North American Mission Board as a strategy coordinator, helping coordinate the joint missions efforts of state conventions and NAMB. He also leads the coordination team working with Southern Baptists in Puerto Rico.
As a U.S. Army major and chaplain for the 221st Military Intelligence Battalion based at Fort Gillem, Ga., Docampo has responsibilities involving about 350 soldiers. Although he couldn’t comment on where the battalion was going or its assignment, Docampo said he anticipates a role similar to his battalion’s regular monthly training exercises. He leads chapel services and otherwise facilitates individuals’ spiritual needs, but much of his work involves just being available.
“We call it a ministry of presence, ” he said. “I just go and talk to the soldiers, and many times form relationships with them. And after a while when they have concerns they come to me. Many times they have spiritual problems … and I am able to lead them to the Lord.”
Docampo said he had been called to the ministry while serving as an enlisted man in the Army during the mid-1970s. He later was approached about serving as a National Guard chaplain by a colleague in the chaplaincy division of the former Home Mission Board, NAMB’s predecessor agency. He saw it as a great opportunity to interact on a pastoral level with individuals, something that is often difficult for denominational workers who often spend most of their time with fellow Christians.
He said he has been pleased at the opportunities the position allows not only for proclaiming the gospel and ministering to soldiers, but also for spiritual influence among the battalion commander and staff.
“Once we’re on the field I will participate in the daily briefings with the officers in which we will discuss the operations of the day,” he said. “I will be expected to bring any kind of moral or morale issues to their awareness.”
“By being on the staff and being on the staff meetings, I also have influence on the decisions that are being made at the moment,” he added later. “And that’s what’s interesting, because I have a biblical perspective.”
The military buildup in the Middle East also has prompted increased opportunities for talking with individuals about their relationship with Christ — a common report of several Southern Baptist chaplains who have contacted NAMB.
“One solider said today, ‘I think I’m a Christian and I know that spiritual things important, but would you sit down with me later so I could make sure that my faith is where it needs to be?'” Docampo said. “I interpreted that as, ‘I need to get right with the Lord.’
“It’s a wide open door,” he added. “And I’ve had maybe a dozen of those kind of conversations over the last few days.”
Docampo suggested two things Southern Baptists can do to help in the current crisis. The first is prayer.
“I want people to pray that I minister to peoples’ needs in the most appropriate way,” he said. “It’s only the Holy Spirit who can put me in the right place at the right time.”
Also, he said, there is a great need for churches to work with chaplains in helping families impacted by the deployment. Churches can contact the chaplaincy officer of their local military base or National Guard unit to get referrals.
“It’s helpful even if they just adopt one family, or if they want to help with a family support group,” Docampo said. “We have a volunteer that’s a member of Iglesia Bautista Hispania Americana in Lilburn, and he’s gathering a network of churches that are willing to do that.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CHANGING UNIFORMS.