Reflections from Fort Bragg

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My visit to Covenant PCA in Fayetteville, NC to speak at the "Bearing the Sword" conference provided some quite edifying conversations and incidents.  A high proportion of the church members are active duty soldiers stationed at nearby Ft. Bragg, many of them members of the US Army Special Forces (aka the Green Berets).  It is a situation that presents some real challenges to a pastor, but some great opportunities as well.  I left with a great admiration for these Christian warriors and for their faithful pastor, Andy Webb.  But more than that, I was awakened to how greatly they deserve our wholehearted support and how little of this they tangibly experience. Mostly, I was impressed with the commitment, intelligence, and godliness of these Christian soldiers and their families.  The sacrifices they are making for us are simply enormous.  One evening I went to dinner with Andy, one of his elders, and their families.  The elder is a Green Beret captain who returned from 7 months of combat in Afghanistan, and who returns 3 months later.  He had just returned a couple of weeks earlier, and he was fully engaged in his calling as a Christian shepherd.  It was delightful to see the many small ways he was supporting the work of his pastor and how he was laboring to oversee affairs of the church.  And this at a time when most of his military fellows were recuperating from combat.  I was especially touched by the interaction between him and his wife at dinner.  She was the picture of a faithful, godly Army wife, who is clothing herself with good deeds in an enormously stressful situation.  Their little children were delightful, but of course they required parental supervision.  Watching this Christian couple relearning parental partnership after 7 months of separation was both inspiring and heartbreaking.  It was inspiring because of the grace they were showing each other and heartbreaking because of the enormity of the sacrifice they have made.

Andy's church has particular challenges in that the men are so committed to their war duties and because let's just say that they have greater turn-over problems than most churches.  How to raise up, train, and lead elders in a church where the men are frequently going to war or being transfered to new assignments every couple of years?  Yet Andy has simply committed himself to a faithful, ordinary means of grace ministry and he is enjoying the blessing of God in so many ways.  His problems are not too great for God, and neither are ours.  I was so greatly encouraged to see a brother faithfully serving in the way God has appointed and relying on God's wonderful provision in a challenging setting.

Many of you will know that I grew up in an Army family and served as a tank officer for thirteen years on active duty.  How well I remember how awkward it was when my father would return from a year in Vietnam and we would all try to resume a normal family dynamic.  When I was in sixth grade, my father returned from Vietnam to testify before Congress and he had the opportunity for an unannounced week visit at home.  It was one of the wierdest and most difficult weeks we ever had.  We were all in the rhythm of being a wartime family and suddenly, almost without warning, Dad was home.  I think we were all relieved when he went back to combat.  When he returned home for good it was completely different.  Then we were able to look forward to it and to know that it was really over (at least until his next tour in combat) and our family really was going to be reunited.

One reason I bring this up is because I left Fayetteville a little ashamed of myself.  I of all people ought to have these warriors and their families on my heart every day.  But just like everyone else, I go about my life more or less oblivious and uncaring about the great burdens being borne by these military families.  They deserve to be showered by a sense of love and gratitude from our nation and especially from fellow Christians.  But I know perfectly well that they are not.  Not that they really notice nor that they expect it.  They continue to be cheerful and to embrace the high calling of their lives, reyling on their own close-knit community of love and support.

I will never forget how I felt during the post-Desert Storm victory parades in the early '90's.  At the time, my main sentiment was a little bitterness.  I grew up being perfectly aware of the scorn of the nation and the contempt for the military after Vietnam.  This produces something of a bunker mentality when it comes to society at large, with the result that you almost don't even want their praise.  As I watched the multitude of cheering civilians after Desert Storm, I said to myself, "They will forget about us within six months and the nation will abandon the Army again."  Of course, that essentially happened in the brutal downsizing that immediately followed, which has left us with the current force structure that is so woefully inadequate to meet the nation's needs.  I knew it was going to happen, and I knew that the cheering crowds would soon resume their normal indifference towards my soldiers and their families.

Now, just 15 years later, what a shock it is to realize that I am doing the same thing to our current military and their families.  Now I am the one who lives my life without a thought to the human sacrifices daily made for my benefit.  Yes, our church prays weekly for our soldiers and for God's help for our nation in this war.  By my heart has not really been united with them.  My comfortable existence is not overly troubled by the lack of public support they habitually endure.  But having met them face to face, that is going to change.
Posted September 22, 2006 @ 11:24 AM by Rick Phillips

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