How does someone come to the place of being a Navy Chaplain? What is the journey to seeing a calling in your life that would lead you to pastoral counseling? What I have discovered is that each person has a unique story. This one is mine.
If you ask my mom she would tell you I first had a desire to go into ministry when I was six years old at a Billy Graham Crusade. There was always a pull at my heart when I would watch my pastor preach. I could see myself doing that. I also seemed to have a natural ability to understand and retain information from the Bible. However, when I went off the college, I had other dreams. To pay for college I started out in the Navy Reserves. I started attending the University of New Mexico and picked up a Navy ROTC Scholarship. I graduated UNM and was commissioned as a Navy Supply Corps Officer. Supply Officers are the business managers of the Navy. I initially planned on doing two tours and transitioning back to civilian life. However, I found that I loved working for something bigger than a bottom line for a company and I was good at it. At one point I looked at transitioning to vocational ministry but I do believe God kept the door closed because I lacked the maturity to handle a life in ministry at that time.
9/11 happened while I was serving on my second ship as a department head. One of the men who worked for me was clearly shaken up. I knew he was a Christian and he knew I was a Christian. I talked with him and encouraged him with the truth of God being bigger than our circumstances and that God would give us the strength to face whatever life would throw at us. For me I understood the Just War Theory and it was more than just a theory. It provided healthy boundaries to keep our nation in check.
I also was able to see that the Church and our country were two distinctive communities. This was critical in my personal development. It meant our country would ultimately have to answer to God and the Church was a global organization whose allegiance was to Jesus. I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to be able to do my part. I also wanted to grow as a Christian.
Transitioning to Vocational Ministry
My call to full time vocational ministry continued to grow. It finally reached a point in which I knew God was opening doors and opportunities for me to transition. I walked away from the Navy after twelve years. While I hoped to return as a Chaplain, that was not a guarantee. It was a step of faith.
Taking a step like that had a transformational impact on my life. Most people thought I was a little crazy. I had a wife and three young boys. I only needed to serve eight more years as a Supply Officer and I could retire from the Navy. However, I knew I had a calling but it was also a dream to become a pastor and come back to serve as a Chaplain. I took a risk. I know God watched over me and provided. I also know plenty of other stories that do not end as well as mine. I often tell people the way you know if you are on the “front lines” of ministry is if you really have no idea how it is going to turn out. It gave me a degree of confidence I have been thankful for ever since. It also gave me a degree of credibility. I had put my “money where my mouth was.”
Returning to Active Duty
I was in college during the first Gulf War. I will always remember the NROTC Executive Officer talking with a group of us. We all wanted to go over to where the action was. He assured us that was a very normal feeling for people in the military. We want to know how we will handle combat. When I found out I was selected to return to active duty as a Chaplain, I was given the opportunity to be assigned to First Marine Division. I would be serving with the Marine Corps Infantry. I reported to my first battalion and found out I would be deploying to Afghanistan the following year. I was going to find out.
From a Pastoral Care perspective, I was also jumping into the “deep end of the pool”. I needed to be able to engage effectively and I needed to do it from the start. This was where I was able to leverage my twelve years of Naval Service. I served on two ships as a Supply Officer one of which deployed the summer after 9/11. I had a warrior spirit that I felt I had developed and matured. I had also grown and matured into a Christian who learned to trust God and live by faith. It was a powerful combination that enabled me to have a great first tour and an effective combat deployment. That first tour built the foundation for my follow on tours as a Chaplain and I watched as success built upon success.
I think there are three keys that stand out as I look back on my success. First, God has been incredibly gracious and faithful to me. There are countless times I have seen God move and open opportunities that could only be from God. Second, I have had incredible mentors and spiritual friends. I have been sharpened and encouraged by others who invested in my life. Finally, I married well. My wife is a solid grounded Christian. We balance each other extremely well and it has enabled me to have a solid home to launch into ministry. When I look at my life and as I hear other people’s stories, I am confident I am not special. I do serve a big God who is able to work through each of us in incredible and powerful ways.