Andre Wrice stood on the flight deck of the helicopter carrier U.S.S. Wasp. He had already put in a long day ensuring safety as helicopters took off and landed. Now it was after midnight, and flight operations still weren’t over.
Wrice, head of flight deck operations, made a practice of living out his Christian faith before the other members of the crew. “I would pray before flight operations, during flight operations and after flight operations.”
Suddenly, people on the flight deck started running. “What’s going on out there, Wrice?” asked a voice through Wrice’s headphones. “Talk to us.” Wrice ran toward the flurry of activity.
Then a Scripture verse, Proverbs 24:10, popped into his head: “If you faint in the midst of adversity, your strength is small” (NIV). A sense of peace engulfed him, and he slowed to a walk as he approached the scene. A tractor had towed a giant CH-53 helicopter over a pair of skid wheels on the way to the helicopter’s parking spot.
“Thank God it wasn’t a person,” Wrice thought. “To God be the glory.”
He reported what had happened and took responsibility for training his team to avoid such mishaps in the future. And in his calm, responsible handling of the situation, Wrice again demonstrated what it means to be a servant of God in the military. It was that kind of consistent witness that caused his team members’ parents to seek Wrice out at the end of a six-month deployment and embrace him, grateful for the role model he had been to their sons or daughters.
Wrice, recently retired from the Navy, was one of 125 people who attended the “Serving God and Country” conference Sept. 9-11 at the Billy Graham Training Center near Asheville, N.C. Participants, who came from the four major branches of the military and from churches and parachurch ministries, shared effective and appropriate ways to minister to those in uniform.
Speakers included Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, commanding general of the U.S. Army Accessions Command, which oversees recruiting and initial training for the Army. Van Antwerp challenged the participants to be led as Jesus was led by His Father.
“We want to imitate Him; we want to be led like He was led, we want to follow like He followed,” Van Antwerp said.
BGEA worked with Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry (MILMIN) in organizing the Conference. MILMIN’s executive director, retired Maj. Gen. Bob Dees, U.S. Army, outlined goals that include evangelizing all enlisted personnel in the U.S. military, training 21st century Christian leaders for the military, stopping the unraveling of the American military family, providing spiritual resources for those in harm’s way, using the Internet to spread the Gospel, and changing whole continents for Christ through the armed forces of the world.
Goals like those demand the kind of networking and cooperation the Conference was designed to foster, with churches, parachurch ministries, chaplains and individual Christians all working together. And many are serving Christ effectively already.
Retired Chaplain (Col.) Dave Peterson, U.S. Army, said he believes the chaplaincy in the U.S. military is now in the best shape he’s seen. Peterson, who serves as chaplain ministries coordinator for Mission to North America and oversees more than 150 Presbyterian Church of America-sponsored chaplains, explained, “There is a significant number of people coming to faith in Christ. I rejoice in that, because so many chaplains are faithfully communicating the Gospel.”
Peterson continued, “The leadership of the military, I think, is very superb. We have great chiefs of chaplains and deputy chiefs of chaplains–really godly people and good leaders.” A significant number of people in those positions are evangelical Christians, he said.
In addition, at the various training centers for the four major branches of the military, some 1,000 people per month are making first-time professions of faith through the work of MILMIN, according to Dees. Retired Brig. Gen. Dick Abel, who also spoke at the Conference, added that such work is happening not only in the U.S. military but also in 20 other nations’ military forces.
On Sept. 11, participants held a special session in remembrance of the day that terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon–and the United States answered with its war on terrorism. In the four years since that attack, the military’s “op tempo” (operations tempo) has increased dramatically, with troop deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently to the Gulf region of the United States in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That increased tempo can help people to see their need for Christ.
Participants left the Conference determined to do their part to lead people to Christ.
Frank Gonzalez, of Asheville, N.C., a former marine who served in the Gulf War, was one of several who won Conference tickets from WMIT-FM, a radio station affiliated with BGEA. He left the Conference with a desire to get involved in a military ministry.
A military wife added, “The thing that has spoken to me most this weekend is the wives of the men who have spoken to us. “What a challenge to me to watch these godly wives and hear of the prayer that goes into what makes the men who are leading us the strong men that they are.”
One man said, “I just had to say thank you to everyone here and to God for helping to recharge my batteries when they needed to be recharged. We were getting to the point in the deployment where you think it’s never going to end, and this is going to help me go back and continue to spread the Word and the love of God to those around me.”
Dees remarked, “I praise God that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has had the vision to bring together this group of people. This Conference has certainly advanced the cause of Christ on behalf of the troops and their families.”