Supporting Our Troops Through the Chaplains Who Serve Them

Babylune’s Generous December Group Writing Project calls for participants to

write a new post about your favorite charity, social cause or helpful organization. … Tell me, and our readers, why you believe your special organizations are helping to make the world a better place. Tell us why you support them and why we should too.

I support a number of charities and causes I believe in, and my own church – All Saints Anglican in San Antonio, Texas – is at the top of the list. However, the church is, and should be, supported by its members. For the group writing project, I selected a charity that depends on donations by the general public, that uses donations wisely and efficiently, and that provides an important and valuable service: Adopt-a-Chaplain (AAC).

I learned about this organization from my friend Fr. Jerry Sherbourne. Fr. Jerry came to All Saints as a seminary student. He served as a layreader until he was ordained, first as a deacon then later as a priest. He was rector of All Saints until he felt called by God to serve Him as a military chaplain. Although we miss Fr. Jerry, we know our country and our soldiers are blessed to have him in the military.

When he was stationed in Iraq, he and the troops were supported by a variety of organizations, including our church and several troop support organizations, and all the support was appreciated. But Fr. Jerry said this about Adopt-a-Chaplain in a quote on the organization’s Web site:

They pray for me and my unit – not only for safety, etc., but also for God’s blessing as I prepare my sermons, and preach and reach out through special events. They take special requests and will go out of their way to find us what we need – whether it’s a comfort item or something for ministry. They even sent my wife some cookies and helped with a tax question from a couple years ago! And they don’t ask much, if anything, in return. They’ve been a great blessing to me. They support chaplains of any religious tradition (they figure they’ll let God sort out the details).

Fr. Jerry introduced me to Ben Ferguson, who is one of the organizers and volunteers of Adopt-a-Chaplain. Ben was working on a book, and Fr. Jerry recommended me as an editor. He also told me what a blessing Adopt-a-Chaplain had been to him and his unit. Although Ben’s excellent book is nearly finished, he has put the book aside to focus on Adopt-a-Chaplain, which is run 100% by volunteers, with no administrative costs at all. All donations are used to purchase items for the chaplains and the troops and to pay for postage, their largest expense by far. According to the Adopt-a-Chaplain Web site :

Adopt-a-Chaplain is a Christ-centered ministry, the only national charity that exclusively serves deployed chaplains. Our goals: to provide prayer and spiritual support for the chaplains themselves and to provide tangible support that will enable chaplains to more effectively minister to the soldiers they serve.

Ben told me a little about how the organization got started with two questions. In December 2004, Dan Hoebeke received an e-mail from a friend who had been writing to a chaplain in Afghanistan. The chaplain was having some personal struggles. The email contained the first question: “Dan, you’re a religious guy. Would you write to him?”

The second question was from Dan to the chaplain: “Is there anything we can get for you to help with your ministry?”

Dan and his wife sent the first box of comfort foods out on January 15, 2005. That led to introduction to more chaplains, and Dan shared the needs with his men’s group. The program expanded to his church, then to nearby churches, and eventually to affiliates from 40 states.

In reading what chaplains say about Adopt-a-Chaplain, I am struck by two things:

  1. Soldiers may be reluctant to visit the chaplains to discuss spiritual concerns or ask for counseling because they don’t want to look weak. However, they’ll stop by the chaplain’s office for some homemade cookies, and while they’re there, they’ll share their concerns. One chaplain describes this as giving the soldiers a “cover story” for visiting the chaplain.
  2. Chaplains bear the responsibility of taking care of the spiritual needs of the troops in the unit, but who takes care of the chaplains? They need prayer and support as much as the soldiers. AAC fills that need and also supports the families of deployed chaplains.

AAC currently supports about 110 chaplains on the ground in the Middle East (about two-third of deployed chaplains) and has about 20 more who have made contact and are in the process of final training or in transit. Box #10,000 was mailed November 8, 2007.

Ben says:

We have no staff or office overhead. Everything is done by volunteers. One member’s garage is the warehouse and packing headquarters. 100% of donations that come in go to the troops and their needs. We have never had any fundraisers or sought chaplains. Both money and chaplains come to us.

In an email, one chaplain told a friend, “These aren’t just box senders. If we ask for jerky we get jerky.”

Each box has a response card asking what they need or don’t need. Mailing cards is free from war zones. The card also has my email address if they need something quickly. Between the post cards and emails, we probably hear from about 75% of the chaplains that we ship to each week.

The responses are taken by Gary Campbell, a retired engineer, who does a packing spreadsheet with many, many columns indicating what their exposure level is and what they’re asking for each week. Packers take the list and custom pack each box.

We’ll likely hit Box #12,000 by the end of December or soon thereafter. What makes it possible is we have affiliate groups from around the country who take responsibility for meeting the needs of one or more of our chaplains and their families. We know the religious background of each chaplain and do our best to match them with groups of similar backgrounds.

A pastor once asked me where the money came from for all of what we are doing. I told him I didn’t know (actually I was being facetious) but when we needed $810.00 to ship 100 boxes, the money was always there. When we finished packing on Thursday and the shelves were bare, some wanted to know if we should come next week. The next week, supplies had been replenished, and we have always had enough to ship. I tell people it’s a modern day illustration of Elijah’s oil and meal. God resupplies what we need.

The best part from my perspective is they call me our “chaplain to our chaplains” since I do virtually 100% of the communications with them. At times a chaplain will hit an emotional wall and need someone he can yell at, release some pent up frustrations, or just be himself/herself. They know they can talk to me and not worry about it being spread around.

AAC has served as a distribution point for a number of organizations’ donations to the troops:

  • 27,500 phone cards from Justin Boots
  • 10,000 under-armor shirts from AMVETS in IL
  • 28,000 Casting Crowns CDs
  • 750,000 thank-you letters sponsored by Buick
  • Spiritual Tool Kit provided by Zondervan Publishers for 125 deployed chaplains
  • Underwriting to send up to 500,000 Psalm 91 books and bandanas to our chaplains for their troops
  • 22,000 books donated by a Barnes & Noble store in TN
  • Barnes & Noble partnership with America Supports You to donate 5% of online donations to seven troop support organizations, of which AAC is one

Kate Baggott at Babylune asks how the organization is making the world a better place, why I support it, and why you should support it too.

  • Whether you approve of our soldiers being in Afghanistan or Iraq or not, they are there risking their lives for us and our country. They certainly deserve to be remembered and shown that we appreciate their sacrifices.
  • If anyone needs spiritual support, it’s soldiers at war. The physical danger, the emotional trauma of war, and the separation from family added to the normal stresses of life make prayer and support vitally important. Spiritually healthy soldiers will make wiser decisions in crisis situations.
  • Chaplains in a war zone serve the troops, but normally no one cares for their needs. Chaplains have the same human needs and weaknesses as the rest of us, and they need prayer, support, and encouragement to be able to do their jobs effectively.
  • AAC supports the troops through the chaplains who serve them 100% with volunteers and without overhead costs. In three years, Adopt-a-Chaplain has shipped nearly 12,000 boxes of goodies to 233 chaplains, indirectly ministering to more than 200,000 soldiers without spending a penny on administration or promotion. I think that’s an amazing record!
  • The most common request from chaplains is for prayer. All of us who are believers can pray. It seems so little, but it means so much. The tangible packages are important to bring a little pleasure into the lives of the men and women who are defending us, but the prayers are even more important. I encourage you to support AAC financially, but, more than that, I encourage you to support our troops and the chaplains who serve them with your prayers.

I am blessed to know both the “chaplain to the chaplain” in AAC and a chaplain who has received support from the organization, and I know AAC is making the world a better place.

[tags]Generous December Writing Project, Adopt-a-Chaplain[/tags]

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