“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” 2 Timothy 1:7.
For the first two days, the Army didn’t know what to do with us. The FBI was “vetting” everyone to make sure we weren’t undercover terrorists. My Chaplain Assistant and I didn’t let all this red tape stop us. Instead, we went out visiting several heavily guarded monuments, talking and praying with people as much as we could. There was fear, anxiety, and uncertainty pressing on everyone’s minds.
On the third day, we finally received clearance to enter the AO – a term the Army uses meaning, “Area of Operation.” We were told to arrive around 2:30pm and be prepared to stay for at least one night as DC would be on lockdown before the big day, the Inauguration of the 59th President of the United States. Before January 6 and the chaos witnessed at the Capitol, our mission was rather ordinary: provide ministry support for Presidential and Pentagon staff during and after the events of the Presidential Inauguration activities, or PI 59. But after January 6, the mood quickly shifted. PI 59 quickly morphed into “Operation Capitol Response” with over 25,000 troops deploying on US soil to help defend the nations’ Capitol, House, Senate, Supreme Court and national monuments. Something the news/media has sadly left out is that EVERY Army soldier and Air Force Airmen VOLUNTEERED for this operation, including myself. We willingly agreed to help defend the historic occasions of PI 59 and protect our political leaders, even if we agree/disagree on where they stand.
As we made our way to the AO, we were assigned to Task Force House and would provide ministry for everyone inside an area that housed over 3,000 soldiers, and yes, we slept in the parking garage of the House buildings WILLINGLY – not because we had been “banished” from the Capitol or were being mistreated. To safely get there, we had to take alternate routes which required us to flash our newly crafted ID badges so we could drive down picturesque highways with no one else on them – a very strange sight to experience in the metropolis of DC where traffic is normally a nightmare! From there, we made our way through three checkpoints with armored trucks and 8-foot-high fence with barbwire weaving through the top of its latticed slots.
By the time we completed all the hurdles just to get to the AO, it was after 4:00pm! In the parking garage/TOC (Tactical Operation Center), my Chaplain Assistant and I met up with an Army Chaplain and began making rounds. All along the perimeter of the House and Senate, there were soldiers fully armed and protected, keeping watch every three feet. The National Guard put their troops in sections by state, so the first state we visited with was South Carolina, then on to Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Montana (who particularly enjoyed making fun of us as we shivered like leaves while it was 28 degrees out, where the native Montanans said it was “wonderful weather” and commented they were too hot in all their outdoor gear). There were soldiers and Airmen from all over the country! I even spoke to three Security Forces Airmen from Guam! The display of courage, bravery, commitment, and dedication to protect our country truly left me speechless. Seeing so many men and women armed, ready to take on whatever came their way, was surreal.
Later that night, as we began making the final turn back to where we started over five hours ago, we found more soldiers from up north, like Nebraska and the Dakotas. I began talking to a soldier from Nebraska. He saw my Chaplain cross on my jacket and began sharing about his faith and how he wanted to be a better example. We had a wonderful conversation that ended with me praying for him, his family, and his safety. As we were saying our goodbyes to visit the next soldier three feet down the fence, the Nebraskan said with a smile: “Keep spreading Jesus.” I thanked him for his words and for the rest of my time in DC, I recited that phrase as my motto and motivation to witness for Christ.
My dear church family, this is my last monthly newsletter article. As I’ve said before, words can’t express enough how much I’ve enjoyed being your pastor. I never thought I would be an Active-Duty Air Force Chaplain, but the Lord is diligent and His plans for us always prevail. When I first shared the news with you back on Sunday, December 13, I shared a story about how I’d been arguing with God, like Moses, for almost a year about not wanting to go. Sometime this week, read Exodus 3 and 4 and count all the objections Moses raises for not being the one sent to Egypt to rescue God’s people! I was acting the same way – UNTIL I was working on a sermon and checking some Bible verses to cross-reference. I use the same website weekly for this sole activity. As I was scrolling down, there on the left, was an ad that I believe God placed there intentionally because I haven’t seen it since and this website never uses ads. When I saw it, I began to chuckle because I knew God was answering my objections and heeding me to do this for you, my family, my country, and for God’s kingdom.
The process has been long, but Roberta and I have tried our hardest to remain faithful while listening to God’s calling. We’re excited to become Texans and live in San Antonio for however long the Lord needs us to stay! You will always be dear to us, as New Covenant was my first church to pastor when I was fresh out of Seminary in December of 2015. We love you and had some great times together. I’ve enjoyed teaching through the Bible on so many different topics. Before we leave, I’ll have preached over 250 sermons before you! Don’t worry, I don’t remember what all of them were about either – but one thing I do hope for, is that in our time together, you could see how the Lord was using me to “keep spreading Jesus.” I hope He has encouraged you through me to “keep spreading Jesus” too – and if not, I pray that the next shepherd at New Covenant will. Our last Sunday is February 21 and I do hope to see you in worship, masked or unmasked. But if not, as the old hymn sings:
“God be with you till we meet again; by His counsels guide uphold you, with His sheep securely fold you, when life’s perils thick confound you, put His loving arms around you, keep love’s banner floating o’er you, smite death’s threatening wave before you: God be with you till we meet again,” Amen.