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Korea is fertile ground to reach young soldiers

U.S. Army Chaplains Charles Jackson and Mitchell Lewis are among five United Methodist clergy ministering to service members and their families stationed in Korea. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Third in a series

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

While mainline U.S. churches struggle to reach 17- to 20-year-olds, two United Methodist clergy members from Georgia have more young adults seeking faith conversations than there are hours in the day.

U.S. Army Chaplains Charles Jackson and Mitchell Lewis preside in Korea over worship services that are generally standing room only.

Lt. Col. Lewis is the senior Army chaplain stationed in the southern half of South Korea, and is lead pastor for the Protestant congregation at Camp Walker in Daegu.

"I train, coach, and provide executive-level guidance to chaplains and assistants within this geographical area," Lewis said. "It's a little like being district superintendent on a small scale."

Jackson preaches at a worship service at the Yongsan Army Garrison chapel in Seoul.

Approximately 200 people attend the primary worship service each Sunday. The congregation also conducts a full Sunday school program and "has an outstanding choir supported by talented musicians," he said.

Lewis also coordinates youth programs for junior and senior high, a monthly men's fellowship and two weekly women's fellowships (including one for Korean-speaking spouses), a weekly adult Bible study, a retreat program and an outreach program to a local orphanage with special-needs children.

Jackson is the deputy command chaplain for the 8th Army Command at the Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul. He provides religious support to the 23,500 soldiers serving in the headquarters for the U.S. military presence in Korea. He also preaches and leads worship for some 120 people who attend Sunday morning services at the garrison chapel.  

"I’ve served at various levels, as a battalion chaplain, a brigade chaplain and then as a lieutenant colonel," Jackson said. "I can mentor and train and coach and teach a young person or a fellow chaplain that’s going through that process. And I think those are the kinds of skills that I bring to the local church.

"Once you become the equivalent to a lieutenant colonel, you’re pretty much an administrator and you’ve developed those skills to really be an effective leader in managing people, resources, time, a large staff and making sure that all the missions are being accomplished on time."

Jackson said he has a "wonderful and warm" congregation at Memorial Chapel.

"We have lay people there who have been there for a long time. So they provide the continuity for getting new chaplains oriented to that type of ministry and really are doing a great job of augmenting what we do," he said.

A young girl sings during Vacation Bible School at Camp Walker in Daegu, Korea.

Many of the soldiers coming to Korea are straight out of high school and need help to "cope with the stresses of being in the military and staying connected to their families and getting settled away from home and not forgetting the values they were raised with. … It’s high tempo, a busy place, a lot is going on all the time."

Jackson and Lewis are among five United Methodist chaplains serving in Korea, and both come from the church’s North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference. They say the challenges of tending to military personnel frequently extend beyond individual soldiers. Quite a few have brought their spouses and children with them.

"Being stationed in a foreign country creates challenges for everyone, regardless of their family situation," Lewis said.

*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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