FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)–While evangelists of all types prepared to move onto the sands of Fort Lauderdale Beach in a massive evangelism effort, the president of the North American Mission Board said 980 military chaplains are walking similar paths around the world.
Robert E. Reccord, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a March 19-22 Proclamation Evangelism Network conference hosted by the Next Generation Alliance (a ministry of the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association), told the Florida Baptist Witness that NAMB is “privileged” to have endorsed 980 military chaplains in active service.
“A number of chaplains are in place overseas,” Reccord said. “But a whole other group is walking through sands of difficulty right here in the United States with families and those who have had to give up loved ones.”
It is important to recognize chaplains both at home and overseas, Reccord said.
“I praise God for the chaplains who are stepping in and standing up to meet the spiritual needs and the emotional needs of those who are in harm’s way and those who have family members who are in harm’s way.”
And as Southern Baptists collect one of the largest annual missions offerings, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Reccord said it is because of the Annie Armstrong offering and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program that many ministries “in the midst of the Iraqi challenges” can continue.
Reccord said NAMB provides updated training and resources for chaplains in addition to providing support through needed disaster relief efforts in the Middle East.
“If it weren’t for Southern Baptists in their CP and Annie Armstrong giving, none of that would be possible,” Reccord said. “It is only as Southern Baptists continue to be lovingly and prayerfully faithful that we can continue to have an impacting ministry, not only in North America, but around the world as we cooperate with [other Southern Baptist entities].”
Citing reports of baptisms conducted by NAMB chaplains in the Middle East, Reccord said men and women there are searching for answers.
“We are seeing that when you face the ultimate issues you better be asking the ultimate questions,” Reccord said. “And the ultimate questions aren’t related only to the outcome of the war. [They are,] ‘What is the meaningful life?’ and, ‘What is the anchor that is unshakeable even when times are very shakeable?’
“We are seeing that men and women are asking about that God-shaped vacuum that’s in their heart,” Reccord said. “…And the only thing that will fill that is God the Creator through Jesus Christ, his Son.”
Talking to the troops in that environment, and being on call 24 hours a day, can be taxing, said Reccord, discussing the challenges of the military chaplaincy. And so can bearing the responsibility of knowing members of the military are going into harm’s way — and acknowledging that some may not return.
“Realizing that in the midst of conflict that God has called them to bring peace and the peace has to be a peace of the heart — that’s a huge responsibility,” Reccord said.
Reccord said he has not heard of any chaplains who have had to “compromise their stance” or “water down” their faith in order to minister in what many consider an ecumenical style.
“In fact, [chaplains] have been inundated with soldiers saying, ‘I need to talk to you about faith. I need to talk to you about Christ,'” Reccord said.
Women are included among the Southern Baptist chaplains who receive requests to talk of faith matters. Despite the controversy over NAMB’s decision to no longer endorse ordained female chaplains — even though it still endorses non-ordained ones — Reccord said that “men and women on the field of battle can care less about who ministers to them. What they want is help to deal with the spiritual aspects of life.”
Reccord said the military has indicated they are willing to work with NAMB on the issue of women chaplains and that ordination is not a requirement for women seeking military chaplaincy. What is required is that a woman be commissioned as a chaplain by NAMB.
“We have heard our women chaplains are being as effective as our men chaplains and are unashamed of the gospel of Christ and are unhesitant of sharing Christ,” Reccord said. “They just feel they are a part of the team and they are there doing their role. The soldiers seem to be respecting a chaplain whether they are male or female, for the very thing they represent, not the gender that they are.”
Of the work of chaplains in the Middle East, Reccord said there is word that tents are filled to overflowing during worship services, not a typical occurrence.
“We’re just seeing over and over again the issue of meeting a plethora of needs in a very complex world,” Reccord said.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness. Go to: www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PAUSING TO PRAY.