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How Your Church Can Care for Military Chaplains

Foursquare Chaplain Leslie Nelson shares the unique challenges military chaplains face, and offers easy but meaningful ways churches can offer practical support and care.

Chaplain Leslie Nelson
Chaplain Leslie Nelson

When I was deployed to Afghanistan in Dec. 2009 as chaplain of the 148th Brigade Support Battalion, I also served as chaplain in charge of the contemporary worship service.

Like every other soldier and service member on Camp Phoenix (we had 4,000 people there), I longed for a Christmas tree; but I wanted it to be in the front of the chapel so that everyone could enjoy it. Miraculously, I did receive a tree, but I had no decorations for it—until a box came from the Southeast District office.

I had received an email earlier in the month, asking if there was anything I needed, and I asked for Christmas decorations. Neither they, nor I, had any idea they would send the perfect decorations for my perfect little tree, but they came just in time, and the service members were delighted to see the tree go up on the chapel deck. We sang Christmas carols around a fire pit outside the chapel and had a beautiful Christmas Eve service, complete with a piece of what we all missed most—decorations from home—and it is one of my fondest deployment memories.

Deployment is only one small part of chaplaincy. Military chaplains have a really unique job. Our motto is “Pro Deo et Patria,” which means, “For God and Country.” We serve God through our service to the men and women in our formations, no matter what they believe spiritually, what lifestyle they have chosen or where in the world they are serving. We get to show unconditional love, and compassion and strength, when service members need it most, which is often in a crisis.

Specifically, our mission is to nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the dead, and we do that in a variety of ways that all go back to the commitment we made to God to love His people. But we also are professional staff officers who help our commands understand the impact of our missions on diverse cultures, while we give them guidance on how to make moral decisions regarding operations and leadership.

Often, chaplains feel very alone, and that makes ministry daunting. There aren’t many chaplains out there, and they are … spread very thin among the service members.

I like to joke and say that we are like the senior pastors of a 500-member church, with the support of only one staff member, our chaplain assistant. It can be overwhelming at times, but I cannot express in words how thankful and amazed and humbled I am that God picked me—me!—to do this.

If being citizens and service members isn’t enough, we are also members of our local churches. I promise you that after a week or more of constantly pouring myself into the soldiers and families I support, I need a refuge. My church, Refuge West/Summit Community Church (Marietta Refuge Foursquare Church) in Marietta, Ga., has embraced and loved me in a beautiful way.

Because of the nature of chaplaincy, I can miss church for weeks at a time. But the moment I return, they respond like the father of the prodigal son, drawing me in and showering me with God’s love and grace. Every Sunday in my church is a time of healing and replenishing for me, and I know, without a doubt, it is why I never grow weary in the calling to which God has chosen me.

My church has actually adopted me as a missionary. They highlight my ministry and pray for the military. When I am there, they pour love on me rather than putting me to work. I preach a few times a year, but the rest of the time, they nurture me so I can nurture the people I serve.

There are military chaplains all over the country, so, good news: You and your Foursquare church can adopt a chaplain, too! I encourage every church to adopt a chaplain in their area.

Every Sunday in my church is a time of healing and replenishing for me. … It is why I never grow weary in the calling to which God has chosen me.

Often, chaplains feel very alone, and that makes ministry daunting. In the military setting, there is one chaplain for every battalion (300-500 soldiers). Then, there is a supervisory chaplain for each brigade (around five to six battalions). That means there aren’t many chaplains out there, and they are typically very geographically dispersed and spread very thin among the service members.

Being a family, and offering prayer and spiritual support, is probably the greatest gift your church can give a chaplain. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the trenches at work and gotten a text, call or Facebook message that encouraged and reminded me that God has surrounded me to build me up for His purposes.

If your chaplain happens to get deployed, send cards and letters. When I was deployed, each time I received a box I dug through for the card before I ever looked at the contents. Whether short notes or long letters, they made me feel like I was holding a piece of home, the place I longed for, the place I dreamed about, the reason I served.

Veterans Day is coming up, and it is a great time to honor everyone who has served the country in any military capacity. But it also is a wonderful time for your church to reach out and find a military chaplain—whether they are on active duty, or in the Reserves or National Guard—to adopt and nurture.

There is no greater way to honor our military than by supporting the chaplains whose entire lives revolve around supporting the troops who protect our freedoms.

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is a Foursquare chaplain and a major in the Georgia National Guard. When not deployed abroad, she attends Refuge West/Summit Community Church (Marietta Refuge Foursquare Church) in Marietta, Ga.

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