A couple of months ago, I was Tom McElhaney, pastor of High Point Baptist
Church in Covington, Georgia. I spent my time attending to the daily tasks of a
full-time pastor such as visiting the sick and newcomers to the community,
preparing sermons, running errands, holding services, planning upcoming
I am now Chaplain (Major) Thomas McElhaney of the United States Army Special
Forces. On October 7, I said good-bye to my wife, children, son-in-law and
granddaughter to assume my duties at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Americas war on
terrorism changes daily. As I write this, I dont know if my unit will be
assigned overseas duty or not.
I became pastor in Covington six years ago after leaving the army. The
Pastor Search Committee knew my intentions to continue military service in the
reserves. Immersing myself in pastoral duties, the reserves wound up on the
back burner. I received the occasional mailing from the army and was surprised
at a phone call in mid-July from Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Willoughby, informing me
that my status had changed.
I had been placed on a roster for the 5th Special Forces Group in Ft.
Campbell, Kentucky. The militarys Special Forces run special reconnaissance
missions, rescue operations and other high-risk operations. Special Forces
include the Green Berets, Navy Seals, Combat Controller Teams, Para-rescuemen
and other highly classified groups. (For more information on Special Forces,
please see www.specialforces.net.) Chaplain Willoughby and I began to plan my
Then September 11, 2001, changed all our lives.
Shortly after the attack, I was notified that I should expect to be
activated. My orders arrived. My date to report was October 8, not mid-October
as expected. I had one week to pack up and report for duty.
Was it hard? Did I find it difficult to leave? Yes, I wont deny that I
dreaded leaving my family and my home. I miss them as well as my church family,
but Im comforted by the knowledge that Ill be in their prayers and their
thoughts, as they are in mine.
As I stood in my office surrounded by bits and pieces of the past six years,
I was reminded of all the steps wed taken together as a church. The new
sanctuary, two church vans, the new media center, remodeling the old sanctuary
into a youth building . . . we had been blessed with talented people seeing new
ministerial needs and ways to accomplish them.
Yes, its been a test of faith to step out of my comfort zone into an
unknown, but Im happy to have the chance to serve my country and my Lord. God
has a plan, and I know that He has a purpose in moving me to this place at this
time. While its not been easy, Im looking forward to sharing Christ in this new
place of ministry through my words, attitudes and actions. I know that I have
been given the opportunity to share Christ with many men and women who will
probably be in harms way. In a time when words like Holy War are common on the
evening news, I am confident knowing that I go into battle with the whole armor
Its another exercise in faith for my church as well, which will make us
stronger and more able to be effective in our outreach to people who dont know
Christ. As a pastor, Im thankful for my congregation and proud to see how they
are dealing with what God has for us at this time. Theyve been strong and
supportive, and I know their strength and prayers will continue to sustain me
while I am on this difficult mission.
There are many more like me from all walks of life being thrust into new
environments to see to our nations needs. Please take a moment as you read this
to remember the military men and women from your church, family, neighborhood
and workplace, and support them with your prayers. While its difficult to leave
our homes and loved ones, we serve with pride and love for our country. For me,
its a special privilege to serve the Lord as well. Chaplains see many unique
needs, especially during a time of crisis, and the Lord already knows the
particular needs of each person Ill encounter. I pray for His guidance in
attending to those needs and for the wisdom to recognize each opportunity to
show Gods love and share Christ.
For more information about military chaplaincy visit www.namb.net/chaplaincy.
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