Scattered around the world, wherever our armed forces may be found, are the forgotten men of the Church.
Have you ever prayed for the chaplains in the armed services? Have you thought of them and prayed for them every day?
Few of these men have people in their congregations who pray for them. They work in the outposts of the Church, often forgotten by those bound to them by church ties and at times merely tolerated by those to whom they wish to minister.
The role of the chaplain is a lonely one. In many areas where our men are stationed, wives are not permitted to accompany them. Separated from home and loved ones these men sometimes find loneliness over-whelming.
On many occasions the writer has visited chaplains. He has found them hungry for Christian companionship, and soon the subject of home and dear ones has come up, showing how real their loneliness is.
Chaplains are also in the position of ministering to those who have not called them. Unlike ministers of churches here at home, these men have not been called by their congregations; and it is not easy to build up the relationships that usually exist in a church here.
Again, chaplains often work in most depressing and discouraging conditions. The greater the need of some to whom they have been sent to minister, the less they may find themselves welcomed by these very persons. Furthermore, the more sensitive a chaplain is to low moral and spiritual conditions, the more depressing he may find his situation to be.
Brightening the picture are those few devoted Christian men who back up the chaplain in his work, share in preparations for chapel services, and prove themselves a strong arm the chaplain can depend on in the conduct of his work.
But a chaplain also works under the handicap of military orders. His work may be regarded as merely a routine to be carried out in compliance with fixed procedures, a routine to which little spiritual significance is attached and from which little of value is expected.
One of the duties of a chaplain and an area of great potential value is counseling with men in trouble. There are those who are sorely tempted to go the way of the world, the flesh, and the devil, but who still have a heart-hunger to do what is right. For such men the chaplain is an anchor in a troubled sea.
Many servicemen—some of them just boys away from home for the first time—are desperately lonely. To them the chaplain can bring comfort and strength, not only by giving them friendly counsel but also by enlisting them in activities that will provide an outlet for their energies and will help to ease the ache of a gripping homesickness.
Some of these men have marital problems. Their wives and children are left at home. Some have wives who add to their burdens by sending complaining letters or by giving evidence of restlessness under the enforced separation. Some men fall in love with women in the country where they are serving, and it becomes the duty of the chaplain to counsel and to help in every way possible in order to prevent a step that may bring disaster later on.
Chaplains also have among their “parishioners” some who resent and reject them. Reminders of home and decent living cause some servicemen to resent the presence of the chaplain; he is an unwelcome reminder of a way of life they have rejected.
In many ways the role of the chaplain is affected by the commanding officer under whom he serves. One chaplain we know had tried for months to clean up an area in Japan where sailors were accosted by prostitutes the moment they stepped ashore, but to no avail.
Then a new officer took command. The chaplain told him of the situation, and the officer went to take a look for himself. He immediately called on the local Japanese mayor and told him that until the district was cleaned up, the entire town would be off-limits to the sailors. Within hours the area was cleared of the undesirable element. The chaplain told me that as long as that commanding officer was stationed in the port, the conditions remained greatly improved.
Some chaplains have the deep satisfaction of hearty support from superior officers in their areas. The officers express that support by attending chapel services and by letting it be known that they are Christians and that they consider the chaplain their spiritual adviser.
One chaplain told the writer of his experience when the American army took over Rome during World War II. Sunday morning the commanding general phoned the chaplain to ask where he was going to preach. Everything was in confusion in the city, and there had been no time to designate buildings for use as chapels. Nevertheless, the chaplain found a deserted church. The general arrived with his aide and sat in the front pew, and the chaplain preached a simple sermon on Psalm 91. After the service the general walked back and forth a few minutes, then turned to the chaplain and said, “Chaplain, thank you. That was just what I needed.”
Such encouragement means much; it helps to counteract the discouragement of trying to minister to hundreds who are utterly indifferent to all attempts to reach them.
But there are compensations for those who labor. One chaplain told the writer of a seriously wounded soldier whose condition was known to be hopeless. From the time he was admitted to the base hospital his Christian witness was felt. His simple faith and his clear affirmation of that faith made an indelible impression on both doctors and nurses.
Late one night the chaplain had finished hospital rounds and was weary in body and mind. As he was leaving the hospital, he felt he should go back to speak to this critically ill man. Retracing his steps, he stopped by the bed of the soldier, who was lying flat on the special frame used for spinal injuries. After a word and a prayer for which the man expressed deep appreciation, the chaplain returned to his quarters.
During the night the soldier died, and, in the chaplain’s words, “the entire hospital was shook up” because of the joyous faith of this lad.
Not only did the chaplain write the wife and parents of this man; later, when he returned to the States, he went to see them and told them of the triumphant life and death of their loved one.
Again we ask: Have you been praying for the chaplains? Are not these men, so far as you are concerned, the forgotten men of the Church?
We know of no group of men laboring under more adverse circumstances. These men need the comfort and strength of Christians here in America who pray daily for them. You who read this can see to it that they are no longer forgotten, and that they are held up in prayer before the Throne of Grace and thus strengthened in the One whom they serve.
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