It was April 1971, in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. We'd been attacked by Viet Cong who'd infiltrated our perimeter. I didn't know what faith group the severely wounded man I ministered to that night belonged to, and it didn't matter. As a military chaplain serving in a combat zone, I was there to help him feel the presence of God, divine Love, caring for him, supporting him, sustaining him.
I prayed aloud the Lord's Prayer, and silently prayed to help him feel some sense of peace, that he was dwelling in the presence of his heavenly Father. I moved on to pray with the other three guys lying next to this man, all waiting to be medivaced.
It was a long night. I learned the next day that he didn't make it. I had to ask myself then, and several times after that, whether what I'd done in providing that ministry had made any difference. The man had died in spite of the prayers and medical treatment he'd received. The affirming answer that came to me was found only through deepening my own faith and understanding of the all-power and ever-presence of God, divine Love.
At the time, there were more than 300 chaplains serving in that combat zone. They represented several major faiths, all wanting to bring the healing message of God to those who were fighting in the war. With the simple desire to bring blessing to those around us, we found ourselves offering our ministry before, during, and after battles in which the most horrific elements of death and destruction became almost commonplace. And our ministry was offered to everyone we served, not just the members of our own faith.
It's probably fair to say that on any battlefield, in any century, the interest in discriminating between faiths disappears in light of the demand to help wounded and dying soldiers feel the presence of God in their hour of need. I'd been inspired by a statement from the Christian Science textbook that motivated me when I first was considering entering the chaplaincy: "… blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 518).
Beyond good human intentions, the faith that God is the one infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Father of us all, enabled me to recognize that right in the midst of chaos, fear, war, and animosity, I could behold the power of divine Love. God was protecting, defending, comforting, and sustaining each of His children, whether they were called friend or enemy.
I prayed daily to be a faithful witness to the fact that God constitutes all that exists. When this spiritual fact is understood, it brings peace and fulfils the divine demand to love one another as we are being loved by our heavenly Father.
The peace that came to me through striving to do this gave me courage and strength. It sustained me through every challenge that tempted me to believe in a power opposed to God, good – God who is eternal Life, omnipotent Truth, ever-present Love.
These words of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians came alive, and served as a guidepost to measure my efforts: "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Cor. 10:3-5).
This passage helped me see through the belief among some soldiers that our opponents were less than human, lifted fears and discouragement for me and for those I served, and enabled me to maintain a spiritual focus even during times of chaos. And the truth of this message remains as true for chaplains today (and for everyone striving to heal the evil of war), as it was when I was an Army chaplain – and when it was first written down so very long ago.