Fourth of July: Chaplains, fog of war, flow of life

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — Seventy-five years ago, in June 1944, after the largest amphibious landing in history, U.S. and Allied forces began their offensive push from the blood-soaked beaches of Normandy to the east of France and deep into Germany with the intent of restoring freedom to Europe and preserving it for the rest of the world.

More than 160,000 troops landed at Normandy on D-day. An unknown number of chaplains were there as well, providing a comforting glimpse of God’s presence in the chaotic fog of war.

One of those chaplains was Southern Baptist chaplain John G. Burkhalter. In 1943 he left his pastorate at West Flagler Park Baptist Church in Miami, to become an Army chaplain. A year later he deployed with the 1st Infantry Division to Europe and became part of the initial wave of Allied soldiers landing at Omaha Beach. In a letter to his wife Mable (published in the Miami Daily News on Aug. 6, 1944), he described his combat experience at Normandy:

“I prayed through the night as we approached the French coast but now I began praying more earnestly than ever as I stood in line waiting to get off the landing craft to go onto shore. Danger was everywhere; death was not far off. As we lay there hugging the earth … to escape shrapnel from artillery fire and bullets from snipers, the birds were singing beautifully in the trees close by. Nobody can love God better than when he is looking death square in the face and talks to God and then sees God come to the rescue.

“Ernie Pyle (a war correspondent) came ashore the morning after the assault and after seeing the results of what took place the day before he wrote, ‘Now that it’s all over, it seems to me a pure miracle we ever took the beach at all.’ There were a lot of miracles on the beach that day … because God was on the beach; I know He was because I was talking with Him all the time. I prayed so hard, especially as I saw those suffering men (my men) scattered here and there and seemingly everywhere in front of me.”

Southern Baptist chaplain John G. Burkhalter (first row, left), who was in the initial wave of Allied soldiers landing at Omaha Beach, recounted that he “prayed so hard, especially as I saw those suffering men (my men) scattered here and there and seemingly everywhere in front of me.”
Arlington Cemetery photo

As Chaplain Burkhalter eventually made his way to his men who lay wounded and dying all around him, he certainly must have asked the burning question that always grips the heart of a chaplain: “Lord, Who’s your one? Who’s your one that needs my prayers or a word of encouragement? Who’s your one standing at death’s door? Who’s your one that longs to hear your comforting words of forgiveness, love and hope? Lord, who’s your one that’s dying without a Savior? Lord, who’s your one that needs to hear the Gospel above everything else going on all around them?”

Today our 3,627 endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains carry the torch of “Who’s your one?” into difficult and, at times, dangerous places hard to reach by most churches.

They find that one during a ride along with a police officer; at the bedside of a terminally ill patient; in an ICU waiting room with a spouse anxious to hear a word of hope from the surgeon; at a disaster site with a family who just lost everything; in a corporate office with an executive who needs Jesus as his CEO; in front of a prison cell with an inmate facing a life sentence; or praying with an anxious service member in a combat environment.

Regardless of the institutional environment, our chaplains tirelessly look for that one God sends their way. And when they find that one, they have the complete freedom to preach the whole counsel of God, to offer our Bibles and Christian literature, to promote the Gospel freely as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and, yes, to pray in the name of Jesus. Soul-winning not only remains one of the many priorities of a chaplain’s ministry, but we as Southern Baptists expect them to practice evangelism. Our chaplains, in fact, keep the Gospel above all in their ministry. They have recorded nearly 40,000 professions of faith in Jesus Christ in the past two years.

Chaplain (Major) Phil Kramer is the lead pastor at Fort Benning’s Crossroads Chapel in Georgia, where each week more than 400 soldiers and family members attend vibrant, Jesus-centered services. He’s also the senior chaplain for the Army Rangers, where he and his team have cultivated Great Commission synergy, baptizing 47 Rangers last year and are on track to baptize over 90 Rangers this year.

Another of our Southern Baptist chaplains, Army Chaplain (Captain) Jose Rondon, likewise lives the Gospel above all in his ministry. Since March 2018, he has recorded 6,299 soldiers who have made first-time professions of faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.

The fact that we have the religious freedom to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ should never be taken for granted. The religious liberty we have enjoyed as a nation for 243 years has come at a great price, paid in full by the blood, sweat and tears of the men and women of the United States Armed Services.

The apostle Paul in Romans chapter 13, verse 7 reminds us that we are to render “…honor to whom honor is owed” (ESV). May we never fail or forget to honor, remember and pray for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen and veterans who remain freedom’s guardians for our nation and the world. Their sacrificial service, and the grace of God, will ensure we maintain the ability to freely proclaim the Gospel above all.

Chaplain (MG) Doug Carver, USA-Retired, is executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board. This article is adapted from his address honoring veterans on the opening day of the June 11-12 Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, Ala.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published July 4, 2019