Sharing Jesus with soldiers
Christians are doing wonderful work to tell people who are never far from death that there is a God who loves them deeply
Published 01 August 2012 | Rob James
I will never really know what undermined my father’s faith. He joined the army not long after his baptism, becoming a member of first the SAS, and then the SBS (Special Boat Squadron). He must have found it difficult to square the challenge “to love your enemies” with the orders he received to kill them, particularly in hand to hand combat.
Sadly, he would never discuss it, and with his death in the late Nineties I lost any opportunity to talk to him “in the living years”.
I guess this is one of the reasons that I am attracted to the work of SASRA (The Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association). SASRA has a distinguished pedigree. It commenced informally in 1818 amongst troops in the Woolwich Garrison but expanded to such an extent that in 1838 concerned Christian Officers formed the Soldiers' Friends Society and The Army Scripture Readers. The then Chaplain General placed it on a more formal footing by issuing a Charter in 1854 and today SASRA has charters covering its work with the Army and the Royal Air Force. General the Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff serves as its current President.
SASRA has a specialised ministry that complements the regular work of chaplains by focusing on God-given opportunities for personal evangelism. Uniquely these men and women are permitted, subject to Chaplain's recommendation and Commanding Officers' permission, to visit soldiers and airmen in their accommodation, work and recreation areas. Their credibility is ensured by the fact that all Scripture Readers have served in one or other of the Armed Services. They are all committed Christians and gifted evangelists and have undergone a period of training and assessment before being deployed to a station with the agreement of the Ministry of Defence.
Strange as it might sound to some SASRA works on the premise that “A soldier is a better soldier when he is under the command of God”. As one reader explained recently, “The military has six core values: courage, loyalty, discipline, integrity, selfless commitment and respect for others. All these values are found in those who have true faith in God and allow Him to guide their lives.”
Soldiers constantly stare death in the face, even when they are on training exercises. Ranger Michael Mcguire’s family discovered this when he died following a live firing exercise on the Castlemartin ranges near my home in Pembroke earlier this year. I frequently hear the sound of guns, and often meet varying forms of armoured transport on the road, and so it does not take much to remind me just how much these young soldiers and their families need our support and our prayers. Our links as a church with SASRA make this possible, and ensures that those about to risk their lives know that there are a group of believers who will pray for them and support them, particularly while they are serving overseas.
And we are aware we have much to thank God for. In the most recent edition of “Ready” for example, Rev Cole Maynard CF Joint Force Senior Chaplain HQ Joint Force Support in Bastion talks enthusiastically about the joint baptismal service they have just held with their American colleagues.
“Great things have been happening our here in Bastion,” he writes. “We started a new contemporary worship service in August and this has really taken off”. And he continues, “Soldiers are invited to come forward and share items of praise or prayer, or simply testify to what God is doing in their lives. Soldiers pray out openly in front of their peers, and people lap up the preaching with eager faces. God is at work.”
Even the most superficial reading of the NT will show that Jesus and the early church were in constant contact with serving soldiers. One seems to have discovered Jesus’ identity as he died (Mark 15) and the apostle Peter discovered just what God can do when he spent some time in a Roman centurion’s house in Caesarea (Acts 10).
All who are involved in the ministry of SASRA are aware of this, and their hopes are summed up well in words attributed to Lord Dannett: "In my business, asking people to risk their lives is part of the job, but doing so without giving them the chance to understand that there is a life after death is something of a betrayal...Qualities and core values are fine as an acceptable moral baseline for leadership, but the unique life, death, resurrection and promises of Christ provide that spiritual opportunity that I believe takes the privilege of leadership to another level."
I wonder what might have happened if my dad had met someone like that.
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