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NOBTS professor to serve as chaplain in combat zone

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Sometimes devotion to duty and commitment to God carry a high price. For one family at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the commitment is equal to the cost.

Endel Lee, assistant professor of preaching and pastoral ministry in the seminary’s Leavell College, will be deployed in mid-January to active duty in a combat zone. Lee is a Naval Reserve chaplain who will be serving with the Marines in the Middle East.

Twenty-three years of military training, 11 years as a Marine and 12 years as a Navy chaplain have prepared Lee for ministry under dangerous circumstances. As a chaplain in the field, Lee will serve a diverse group that can number in the thousands.

“As chaplain, I will have access to persons of lowest rank to the commanding officer,” Lee said of the ministry opportunity.

A Leavell College faculty member since 1998, some might call Lee’s deployment an interruption to his teaching ministry. However, he sees it as a ministry opportunity that will enrich what he brings to the classroom, thus enhancing such courses as “The Chaplaincy Ministry.”

Lee is no stranger to difficult circumstances. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, he served as chaplain to the families of the victims and the personnel at Ground Zero. He describes this as one of the most demanding, yet meaningful, experiences of his ministry.

Being both a full-time seminary professor and a reserve chaplain can be challenging. Lee and his wife, Kathy, and their two sons, ages 12 and 14, lead a full and busy life. Retirement from the military was an option for Lee during the last two years, but it was not the option he chose. Retiring while U.S. troops were in harm’s way was not how he wanted to end his career, Lee said.

With U.S military forces committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lee knew that the possibility of being called to active duty was real. The implications for his family and his teaching ministry could not be taken lightly.

Although it is unusual for a seminary professor to be called to active duty, Lee quickly reminds others that he is not the first to serve in this way. Jim Spivey, a former faculty member at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as an Army Reserve Chaplain during Desert Storm and after Sept. 11.

In addition, Lee is not the first person from the NOBTS family to be called into active service. Several current NOBTS students and alumni are serving with the Reserves or on active duty.

“Many before me have made sacrifices at crucial points in their lives,” Lee said. “They have left families and even pastorates. I’m nothing out of the ordinary in that regard.”

The deployment does not come at a convenient time for the Lee family. The circumstances of the last six months have been difficult, with seemingly one crisis following on the heels of another. Several events, including a frightening time of concern for one of their son’s health, have been emotionally demanding.

These difficult days have given the Lees a deeper appreciation for the power of prayer. Although their son’s health is stable, his situation requires continued attention.

“I never really had anything shake my world before,” Kathy said. “‘Prayer can make a difference’ are not just words I say anymore. So many people have prayed for us. Knowing that they will be praying for us through Endel’s absence gives me comfort.”

Even in the midst of uncertainty, they see the Lord’s providential care. Recent unexpected events were the catalyst in Lee’s mother coming to live with them.

“The Lord knew this [deployment] was coming,” Kathy said. “My mother-in-law is such a help to me. It will be good to have her here with me and my boys through this next year.”

Each moment together is precious to Endel and Kathy. Unlike past years, the Lees had planned two family trips during the holiday season, both arranged well in advance of his call-up. They find joy in knowing the Lord provided for these special times together before they were even aware of how precious such times would become.

While Lee is deployed, Kathy and their boys will continue to live and work as part of the NOBTS family. Though preparing for a prolonged separation is difficult, Lee maintains a thankful attitude.

“We are grateful for the length of notice we were given,” Lee said. “Only 48 hours’ notice is required. We are also very grateful to the seminary leadership and the NOBTS trustees for their support in allowing me to serve in this capacity and for the tremendous care they have shown my family.”

Joshua 1:9 has become the rallying point for the Lee family. The familiar text reads, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” As Lee goes to serve American soldiers in harm’s way, his sons proudly wear dog tags, given to them by their father, inscribed with this verse.

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  • Marilyn Stewart