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Overcoming the Unimaginable

A military chaplain shares how he finds the promise of comfort and strength in the middle of war and death.

A military chaplain finds hope

The war between the U.S. and Afghanistan has been ongoing for 17 years; this has been the longest foreign war in our history. Although we don’t hear much about it in the news anymore, the longevity of the war is a reality for our troops. As this takes place, most of us tend to go about our daily routines: work, raising a family, school, marriage, church and so on. It’s not that we aren’t concerned for our military men and women, but when things are out of sight, they tend to be out of mind. 

As I write this blog, I’m currently in Germany attending a training for military chaplains serving in Europe. My colleague and retired Chaplain, Kenneth Sampson, and I have spent time listening to the experiences, challenges and blessings of the men and women serving in our military. While here, I have been reminded that the war is still ongoing, and its effects are real. 

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I was shocked to learn about the unimaginable that takes place when going to combat. One retired military mortuary personnel shared with us the horrific accounts of retrieving and preparing the dead. He explained how much care goes into ensuring that our men and women are honored in death. 

As the chaplain told more about his line of work, he began to open up about how tending to the deceased affected him mentally over time. When in Iraq, he would say a prayer for each man and woman, regardless of their physical condition, but it began to take a toll on him. He experienced terrible nightmares and had to eventually stop viewing the wounds on the bodies and just say a prayer over the deceased.

As the chaplain continued, he mentioned a time when overseas that he came close to dying. After this experience, he questioned why he survived while others didn’t. Sadly, many military men and women ask themselves the very same question. This brings up another question, how can these individuals return to their normal life after war? For most, this isn’t easy and it takes time, while for some it never truly happens. In discussing this, the chaplain told us he turns to God for comfort and strength, and to those who know firsthand what it means to be in combat.

The majority of us will never experience the scars of war in our souls. But we all face struggles, and that pain is real. When in need of strength, comfort, grace and endurance, we must all turn to God. 

May the promise in Isaiah be fulfilled in our soldiers and all, “…to comfort all who mourn …to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.” May the hope in God’s comfort and strength be ours. 

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Lord, without Your presence, we can’t endure and overcome the unimaginable in our lives; comfort and strengthen all serving in the military and in combat’s harm.

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