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Chaplains: Ministry to warriors is exciting, humbling

U.S. Navy Chaplain Doug Waite is stationed in Honolulu and is one of 139
active-duty United Methodist chaplains serving in five branches of the
U.S. military across the globe. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Second in a series

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 27, 2008 | HONOLULU (UMNS)

The Rev. Douglas Waite was a flower child searching for truth in the early 1970s when he ran "smack dab into Jesus Christ."

Waite became a Christian at the end of his college days and enlisted in the U.S. Navy because he was about to be drafted. His father-in-law told Waite that he could receive the family business if he became an electrician.

"That sounded like a pretty good deal to me, so I enlisted in the Navy, became an electrician, and I served on destroyers during the Vietnam War," he said.

There, his life took a turn that resulted in a 25-year career as a Navy chaplain.

His commanding officer called him to a destroyer state room and said, "'Petty Officer Waite, tell me how you met Jesus Christ.' And so I gave him my story, how I had come out of the drug world and met Jesus as a philosophy major at the University of Washington, and he said, 'Fine. Petty Officer Waite, from now on, you do Protestant services at sea. Dismissed.'"

Bishop Robert Hoshibata visits with U.S. Army Chaplain Jeremy Mount.

That led Waite to become the Protestant lay reader and got him thinking about the ordained ministry.

Pastor to warriors

Waite is one of 139 active-duty United Methodist chaplains serving in five branches of the U.S. military across the globe. Eight serve in Hawaii.

"One of the great things about being a military chaplain is I am a pastor to warriors," said the Navy captain from the church's Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference. "The military are the warriors of our nation. They protect our nation. They give us the freedom that we have."

"I’ve done ministry to Satanists and Wiccans over the years, facilitated them in their faith—and atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims. … I think being a military chaplain is a calling and it’s a gift."

Religious freedom is a precious right that Waite and other chaplains say they are proud and privileged to provide and defend. Stationed in Pearl Harbor, Waite lives with a constant reminder of the human cost of protecting such freedom.

"Right in this harbor right behind me … 3,000 men and women, civilians and military gave their lives in one of our terrorist attacks in 1941," he said of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Exciting ministry

Army Chaplain Jeremy Mount said being a pastor in the military is "always exciting and always different.

"The fact that God calls me to get up and do PT (physical training) every morning and possibly jump out of airplanes, possibly put me on helicopters and place me in some of the most remote places where the Gospel hasn’t probably even been heard in centuries, that’s beyond exciting," Mount said.

The Rev. Vernon Vergara is a Navy chaplain serving with the Coast Guard.

"God cloaks me in the same uniform, in the same skin as all the other soldiers, and sets me right among them. Where they go, I go."

Navy Chaplain Vernon Vergara, assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard, said those called into ministry as a military chaplain find themselves "growing in ways that you never thought you would be capable of."

Vergara said being there to guide people through difficult situations is "a phenomenally profound ministry."

"You see God’s hand in real ways in people’s lives when they’re faced with the deepest of questions about death and eternity and salvation … when they are facing times in their lives when they may be in the cross hairs of a weapon," he said.

Waite says being with people in harm’s way is a wonderful opportunity to bring the message of Jesus Christ.

"When we’re going into combat zones, the attendance at worship definitely increases. There’s no question about it," he said. "When those rounds are coming by, you know, our worship services get bigger, and there’s a good reason—because these people are that close to going to meet their maker. So it’s a privilege to be there and to represent the Lord in those times."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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