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Supply officer adopts subtle role as missionary to fellow sailors

ABOARD USS HARRY S. TRUMAN, EAST MEDITERANNEAN (BP)–It’s Saturday morning and Keith Milo, an E4 from Bridgeport, Conn., and Elvin Rolon, an E3 from Orlando, Fla., nervously stand near their racks. Lt. Darren McFall, assistant supply officer for the aircraft carrier, is conducting an inspection of their berthing. It isn’t going very well.

“The deck looks good, but there’s a lot of dust up here,” says McFall, taking a finger and wiping it along the top rail of a rack, revealing a large amount of black dirt.

The inspection of the “head,” or restroom, doesn’t go any better.

“There’s a lot of lime deposit — you’re going to have to come back and spend some time in here this week,” the lieutenant informs the young sailors, who respond with glum faces.

On the way to the next inspection, McFall acknowledges that he’s pretty strict with the sailors.

“I hate being mean,” he says, shaking his head. “But we hold everyone to a high standard. Living quarter conditions for enlisted are tough enough — there’s not a whole lot of personal space. It’s even worse if the conditions are bad. When you have good living conditions, it translates to better morale, which is good for the whole ship.”

McFall is the key officer responsible for basic services on the ship such as food and laundry. There are many areas of the ship that he refers to as his space — ship sections that fall under his supervision. But his concern for the men extends beyond just services. He cares about their souls too.

“The greatest thing I ever did was join the Navy,” says McFall, who signed up after almost declaring bankruptcy for a failed restaurant business at age 24. “I can see how I came in as a 24-year-old, full of myself, and the transformation that ultimately occurred.”

The biggest change for the U.S.-born, Mexican-raised, Southern Baptist was his understanding of worship. Throughout his 19-year career in the Navy (12 years overseas), McFall, his wife and two sons were exposed to several small culturally diverse churches. During a two-year stint in the South Pacific, their family visited a small congregation one Sunday in their search for a church home. There in the front of the church sat a set of drums. It was too much for McFall, who favored traditional worship styles, and the next week they visited another church, one that offered what seemed a more suitable style for him.

“I discovered rather quickly, though, that this particular church was very legalistic,” McFall said. “I believe that theology is scriptural and worship is individual. Somehow, the Lord led us back to the other church.”

McFall tolerated the contemporary music but began to voice his frustration and irritation more frequently at home, especially in front of his two teenage sons. His heart was struck, however, when an older gentleman in their church testified how a rather contemporary reggae-style song from the week before had meant so much to him.

“It was at that moment that I said to God, ‘If you can touch him, you can touch me,'” McFall recounted. From that point, his feelings changed about music and he dove right in, joining the choir and slowly starting his own music ministry. He’s continuing that ministry on the decks of the USS Harry S. Truman. Each Sunday, he leads a choir for the Protestant Sunday service and sees it as a tool that is drawing young men and women to God.

“Every time I walk through the mess decks I always try to find a way to encourage some of these young kids,” said McFall, who frequently will sit down and eat with the enlisted 19- and 20-year-olds. “Sometimes the chaplains with their crosses on their lapels can be a little intimidating, so in my general role as an officer, it opens up opportunities for me to talk to them and invite them to the service.”

McFall believes his 19 years of Navy service is all worth it if one person can come to know Christ as a result of his witness.

“The Navy isn’t a life, it’s a living,” said McFall, who calls Greenbriar Baptist Church in Chesapeake Bay, Va., his home church. “It’s part of my ministry and how God is using me. God has a plan prepared for me. I like to say I’m a missionary paid by the U.S. government.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CHOWTIME, INSPECTION TIME and EYES ON THE SHIP.

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  • Sara Horn