Halloween is approaching, and the times are getting scarier.
Last weekend, our team had two days of training on weapons and tactics in preparation for our deployment. The training emphasized keeping our rifles pointed at the enemy, constantly firing, never letting down our ability to fight. It was deadly serious - there were a few jokes and some laughs, as Soldiers will always do, but overall, the tone was somber. We got the distinct impression the lessons we were learning may save our lives over there.
There are still many hazy details about our mission (some will have to remain hazy to the readers, out of security concerns), but we have a better picture overall of what our Commanding Officer hopes to accomplish. We will be training Afghani Army regulars in tactics and methods for prosecuting their ongoing war against the revitalized Taliban guerrilla forces. It appears the Taliban has been taking lessons from the Iraqi insurgency on strategies and tactics such as explosives and surprise attacks - this ups the ante from what once seemed to be a relatively stable front.
I met the other members of our team as well. Surprisingly, most of us are a bit older, with many years of experience, and much older than the average active duty Soldier. Quite a few in our group appear to be conscientious Christians as well, including what appears to be a few Evangelical Christians. Our CO even included a verse from Ephesians in his introductory presentation: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10, ESV) This was unusual for me, to hear a full Colonel speaking of how he believed God had put this team together to do something significant in our mission. But the CO seemed not to be alone in this feeling.
Perhaps at this time in our nation's military history religious belief is more pronounced than a few decades ago. There's the old adage that there are no atheists in foxholes, and right now anyone signing up in our military does so fully conscious of the fact they will likely go into some dangerous part of the world. U.S. servicemembers are targets for terrorists everywhere. Even before 9/11, our military forces have been bombed, shot, and targeted in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Our ongoing training includes how to avoid being kidnapped or targeted. We are trained to never venture out alone, anywhere. Watchfulness becomes part of your personal survival toolkit.
In spite of the risks, Americans still volunteer for our military. I see the cream of the crop in uniform - sincere, polite, professional men and women who believe in what they are doing. They are brave. They are professional, confident in their training and in each other. They have faith.
Our team is growing in faith. We need a lot of faith to succeed - faith in ourselves, our teammates, in the rightness of our mission, in our equipment, our leaders, and in Providence. Faith will be our anchor. We will turn to it when trouble begins, to keep us from despair.
Halloween is followed up by All Saints' Day, November 1st. All Saints' Day commemorates the service to God of all those who have gone before us, serving Christ and the Church, sometimes giving their lives. The Protestant theologian John Calvin wrote of how all Christians who are called by Christ are saints, sanctified by Christ Himself. We Christians who serve our country in its military can rightly claim three titles: citizen, soldier, and saint.
So I will paraphrase Ephesians' opening to conclude with my own greeting: To all the saints out there who are reading this, greetings! Blessings and peace in Christ! Happy All Hallowed's Evening.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
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.