KUWAIT (BP)–Jerry Shacklett’s ministry has taken him far from his old Kentucky home — around the world to a naval base in Kuwait.
Shacklett, pastor of Irvington Baptist Church in Irvington, Ky., serves as a chaplain for the United States Army National Guard’s 1/487th field artillery unit in Kuwait.
Although Shacklett was deployed in early January, he and his wife, Ruth Ann, had been preparing for the possibility since last summer.
“We were kind of expecting it in a way, but there was always hope that he wouldn’t have to go,” Ruth Ann said. “I am proud that he was willing to serve the Lord and I am ready to support him in that.”
Shacklett is learning to deal with situations as a chaplain that are more difficult than anything he has experienced as a pastor in the United States.
“God is taking my faith deeper. I am working harder in sermon preparation. I am learning to live without conveniences. I don’t need fancy pews, chairs or pulpits. Sometimes you have a tailgate of a Hummer and that’s it,” Shacklett recounted via e-mail.
“The greatest challenge so far is learning how to provide a ministry among so many different faith backgrounds. The heat, the sand and the long hours these young men and women work is difficult for them, and myself, spiritually and physically.”
Shacklett provides religious support to soldiers, sailors and airmen from various military branches as well as to civilian contractors. He coordinates daily worship services and Bible studies on the base, while overseeing other religious activities for various sites in the area.
He also counsels those under his care. Military families face tremendous stress during deployments, with great burdens placed on both the stateside and the overseas spouse.
“The sacrifice many make is often too great. Some come home, but not to a home,” the pastor-chaplain noted. “The void of Christ, or lack of dependence in Christ, is the core issue with most. Mending broken relationships from long distance is very, very difficult.”
Shacklett has seen a number of lives changed already. He has seen men and women come to know Christ. He has watched a number of believers grow deeper in their faith. He has seen cultural and racial walls break down.
“I can’t begin to tell you everything God is doing here,” he said, “but I have never been a part of such a spiritual revival.”
While Shacklett serves in Kuwait, Ruth Ann is in Irvington with their three children, Julia Rose, 10. Ben, 6, and Rachel, one and a half. Although very optimistic, she faces the many challenges common among military spouses.
“It’s easier for me than it is for the kids. It helps a lot that I have constant communication with him. Sometimes I have a bad day and I just need him to say, ‘It’s going to be OK,'” Ruth Ann said. “I usually try to deal with things the best way I can. He’s still the head of the household even though he’s not here. But God has entrusted me to take care of the children in his absence.”
Irvington Baptist Church is helping to provide support to the Shackletts on the home front. While he is in Kuwait, they have hired an interim pastor, while allowing the family to remain in the parsonage. The church sends him cards, cookies and a number of other items regularly.
“They are praying for me and I’m thankful. I get so much mail support and encouragement for me and the other soldiers that [the soldiers] tease me that one corner of the mail distribution room is designated for the chaplain,” Shacklett said.
With all of the challenges facing the Shackletts both in Irvington and in Kuwait, the couple regularly asks for prayer.
“Pray for our children to realize the importance of what Dad’s doing and for them to recognize that not everything’s going to be the same as when Dad is here,” Ruth Ann said. “Pray for me to know how much to accomplish — to have wisdom.”
Jerry asked for prayer for the physical safety and spiritual and emotional well-being of the troops.
“Pray that despite the various backgrounds that the Holy Spirit will give me wisdom to connect with these young men and women and share the Gospel with them,” Shacklett said. “Pray that these young men and women will be able to be faithful away from home. Pray for our enemy, that God will confuse them so that they will be unable to harm us.”
Jessica Perkins, a freelance writer in Louisville, wrote this story for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.