Change is the only constant, especially in war. Tonight we learned that several of us will likely be reassigned to leave Khayr Kot to go train the Afghan National Police. We were told when we arrived in Afghanistan that this was a new part of the mission for the ETT’s (Embedded Training Teams, like ours), but we were not informed it would affect us. (We knew it might happen, but when we arrived in Khayr Kot as a group, it seemed like we would remain a group.) Now it looks like this mission will belong to our team as well.
Our commander sat us all down and told us who may be going and who will be staying - I’m on the list of those who may be going. How ironic that I just got done unpacking! Now I will have to wait to see whether I will remain here at Khayr Kot or go further downrange and help train the ANP.
Today is Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent. We haven’t have a church service for over a month now, but we all still remember what Lent is about: remembering the passion of Christ, his death. He is the example of service; what we do here in the name of serving our country is trifling compared to Jesus’ crucifixion.
I miss church. Reading the Bible is no substitute. Gathering with other believers and celebrating our common faith, remembering what our lives are really about, is important. It’s even scriptural, as the writer of Hebrews urges us not to forsake our gathering together, but to encourage one another in our faith (see Hebrews 10:25).
We are reminded daily of the prayers of the Muslims, as the loudspeakers sound the call to prayer several times a day in our FOB. I pray regularly myself, at night, during the day at times, and often when I feel stressed. But I don’t pray with other Soldiers, unfortunately.
It’s not that we don’t talk about religion or spiritual things - we are human, and share our feelings. But our discussions tend to be more about smaller things, or tasks at hand. Sometimes we talk politics. Those discussions are REAL lively! We talk about Chicago politics, national politics, political candidates, Presidents past and present, and surprisingly there is a wide variety of political points of view. Soldiers are not a monolithic Republican group. Far from the stereotype, even Soldiers who call themselves Republican can be heard criticizing the President, and there are more Democrats and Independents than one might imagine. But one thing we have in common - we care about politics, and we vote. And most of us would go to church if we had opportunity.
It’s an interesting contrast of American citizens and Afghans - we American Soldiers may vehemently disagree on politics or religion, but we all respect our right to dissent. This is freedom - the freedom for someone else to be wrong, in our own opinion. Not that Christians have always agreed to disagree peaceably, or even do now… there are parts of our history and parts of the world where Christians have shed much blood in the name of our own religion. This is regrettable, of course - it is part of our growing pains. But it is largely recognized now to have been wrong.
Tonight, we had a lively discussion on whether it was appropriate for the U.S. to invade Iraq, or if we should remain there. It was surprising to hear some of our officers say they thought it was a mistake, and that Iraqis should be allowed to fight it out amongst themselves. I had to put my two cents in, though, when the discussion turned to Afghanistan. I said, “I know why I’m here - I’m here to stop Afghan girls and boys from being raped and terrorized by the bad guys.” I meant it literally - there has been an unfortunate history of rape in this country, including rape of children. Our commander agreed, calling the Afghan conflict “the right war.”
Personally, I feel some sense of obligation to try to oppose those who would oppress anyone, including in Iraq, although I agree that the situation in Iraq is a bit more complicated than what we confront here in Afghanistan. But still, the thought of cold-blooded murderers killing innocent men, women and children makes my own blood boil.
Perhaps I will get a bigger chance to do something about it. Perhaps I will get a new assignment which will make a bigger difference. Perhaps I will be able to help the Afghans learn to stop terrorism and live in peace. My methods are certainly different than Jesus’, but I believe our objectives are similar. I hope He blesses me in my efforts, wherever I may go.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.