LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Gen. Douglas Carver, chief of chaplains for the U.S. Army, thanked Southern Baptists for the 1,300 SBC military chaplains who minister to some 3 million American troops in service around the world.
“We’re looking at the best of this generation, 1 percent of the American population — soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen — who are carrying the burden for 300 million Americans in one of the most difficult and challenging times in the history of our nation,” Carver told participants in the annual chaplains luncheon June 22 preceding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Louisville, Ky.
Carver, himself a Southern Baptist from Rome, Ga., reminded the crowd of 150 that America remains a nation at war.
“We’ve been at war since 9/11 when our nation was attacked. Those devastating images still resonate in our soul as we lost some 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a lonely cornfield in Pennsylvania,” Carver said. “May we never forget and may it remind us of the cost of staying free.
“I represent about 1.2 million soldiers and a total of 2,700 chaplains of all faiths in the Army, Reserves and National Guard,” Carver added. “Some 200,000 of our soldiers are scattered in over 80 countries across the globe.”
Carver said while most of the troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan, some are in dangerous locales like the Horn of Africa, where they combat human trafficking, drugs and piracy.
More than 5,000 Americans have been killed since the war began in Iraq and Afghanistan, Carver noted.
“We have had 30,000 wounded in action and 1,000 of these are amputees,” Carver said. “Those who suffer amputation experience 20 or 25 surgeries before they are dismissed from a military hospital. I know of one soldier who underwent 60 surgeries before he was released.”
These casualties don’t include what Carver called the “invisible” ones, the thousands who have suffered the trauma of combat. “They have images they will take to their graves unless they are miraculously healed from those memories by the Lord Jesus Christ,” Carver said.
Last year, the U.S. Army recorded the largest number of suicides ever, more than 140, Carver added.
“War is very hard,” he said. “We all have our various elements of warfare, physical and spiritual. War takes its toll on even the strongest. We have a war-weary military. And we’re seeing some residual effects of this long war, although the Army is doing some great things to take care of post-traumatic stress, mental disorders and even suicide.”
After a National Day of Prayer for the military on April 8, “we had more people praying for the military — specifically for peace, preservation and protection of our soldiers — than perhaps ever before in the 234-year history of the military,” Carver said. “Prayer works.”
Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board, said NAMB takes its role of supporting military and civilian chaplains seriously.
“We are proud to support the 1,300 Southern Baptist military chaplains and actually support a total of 3,000 chaplains,” Hammond said. Chaplains minister to law enforcement, in prisons, hospitals and corporations, in addition to the military.
“Some of the best evangelists in Southern Baptist life are the chaplains,” Hammond said. “Folks, if you want to see people winning others to Jesus, overseas and in the U.S., just look at our chaplains. I’d put our chaplains up there with some of our best evangelists. We’re seeing them lead hundreds to Christ — making a real difference.”
Southern Baptists are in for a “tough time” protecting our military chaplains and their freedom of religion in the U.S. military, Hammond added.
“When we hear about our men and women in the military sacrificing their lives, are we going to let this country, for which they fought and died, drift away from its Christian heritage honoring the name of Jesus Christ?” Hammond asked. “Don’t let these men and women give their lives in sacrifice — some the ultimate sacrifice — in vain for a nation they love and believe was founded on Christian principles.”
Three Southern Baptist Convention presidents — current president Johnny Hunt and former presidents Bobby Welch and Frank Page — also spoke at the luncheon.
“I have been watching the chaplaincy a long time,” said Welch, who served as SBC president in 2005-06. “We have never been stronger in our chaplaincy work than today — top to bottom.”
Gary Chapman, a speaker and author known widely for his insights into marriage, family and relationships, also addressed the lunchtime gathering. Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages,” sold 5 million copies and has been translated into more than 36 languages. He’s also the author of 27 other books and five video series.
“My son-in-law became a Christian because of a Navy chaplain in Guam,” Chapman said. “So I feel deeply grateful to chaplains on a personal level. The military chaplains I have worked with are committed to reaching people with Christ.”
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.