Pastor-friend’s long-term prayer for chaplain-friend
By Chaplain Greg Uvila, LCDR, US Navy,Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor, WA
Recently at the CBNW annual enrichment conference we experienced phenomenal preaching and teaching by Pastor Jeff Vandestelt. He wisely articulated what “Everyday Evangelism” is. Pastor Jeff challenged us in many important ways; particularly one stuck like Velcro to my soul, “In all of your personal stories make Jesus the hero!” What grand encouragement! Yes? Yes!
Clearly the Scriptures proclaim the mystery of incarnational ministry, the reality that we can be the arms and legs of Jesus for others right here, right now. As we do so, we are a hero in their midst, not the hero, that’s Jesus’ spot. Right? Right! Nevertheless, through God’s enablement we can powerfully “hero” into the lives of others.
25 years ago, (I know, I just turned 60) I had the honor of working alongside a CBA youth pastor Mark Claudson (currently Senior Pastor at First Baptist LaGrande, Oregon) in the greater Vancouver, WA area. Through crazy summer camps and sleepless winter retreats we schemed and connived our way into the lives of high school students- two spiritual pied pipers offering hope to a generation, although not really understanding it, really needed Jesus. What an honor to run alongside Mark!
Over two decades later, while at the 2014 CBNW renewal conference, Mark and I connected and got reacquainted, catching up on family news and ministry shenanigans. Before I left that conference, he said “I’ll pray for you man.” You know what? He did! Amazing, right? Stick with me. I didn’t see Mark until this year’s (2020) conference, which, do the math, was 6 years later. He ran up to me like the prodigal Father did his son, “Greg Uvila!? I spun around, locked eyes with Mark, warm smile, gentle eyes “in hand,” “I prayed for you Man…” I was incredulous, “What, really, after 6 years?” I didn’t know what to think or say, I just muttered a simple, sincere thank you.
You know praying for others is heroic. It is servant-hood. It is Christ incarnate. Pastor Mark is my hero, little “h,” not capitol “H,” that designation only belongs to our precious Savior, Jesus. Once again, we got caught up on family history and ministry shenanigans.
Normalcy for me as a “middle manager” in the USN Chaplain Corps consists of a routine ripe with administration and mentorship with regular interruptions of Sailors who are in some sort of mess or crisis. This day was no different, deeply engrossed in some “important” report God knocked on my office door. God you say? Yes, He routinely shows up, disrupts, interrupts, barges in, with the same playful glee and energy of a preschooler wanting to show off her coloring. These Spirit intrusions remind me continually of what the calling to Chaplaincy is all about- Sailors, with hearts and souls, people whom God loves passionately, unconditionally.
The Idea of Living
I won’t soon forget this particular disruption. My very normal day gave way to the abnormal, surrendering willfully like a newborn puppy under the watchful eyes of her mother. The sailor before me was in her 20s, like many of those whom I serve, a single parent. Her presenting problem, unfortunately, has become all too common- she was highly suicidal; sadly the idea of living was far more daunting than dying.
Something has kept you alive
I quickly awoke myself from the malaise of administrative madness and engaged her, “Something has kept you alive to this point; otherwise you would be dead, what has kept you alive? The sailor responded curtly, without hesitation or emotion, “My daughter.” “How old is your daughter?” Her affect did not change, and with no emotion, she curtly responded, “Four.”
For about 30 minutes I continued to engage her- seeking Christ’s help to stay engaged, focused, fiercely fighting the pull on my soul to get sucked into her same depressive state- the stakes were high and she needed a present, alert lifeguard, one who could confidently throw her that bright orange lifeguard ring and pull her safely to life’s shore.
“Tell me, when will your daughter graduate from high school?” She stoically calculated “2035.” Again, showing little emotion, it was if we had been discussing the oppressive Northwest rain. We momentarily sat quietly, both pondering the heaviness of the moment, then God showed up again, first with a gentle whisper, next as a confident coach giving clear, precise instructions. “Here’s what I’d like you to do. I want you to go to the store and buy a pack of 3”x5” cards. Next, go straight home, go directly to your kitchen and locate your junk drawer and pick out your favorite magic marker. You know what you are going to do then?” “What?” Again the same, flat, distant, desperate, lifeless tone, “You are going to write in huge print the number 35 on a bunch of cards and plaster 35 all around your home- on your bathroom mirror, on your bedroom dresser, on your living room mantle, on your fridge in the kitchen, on your computer monitor in your study. Further, you are going to go out and put 35 on the dashboard of your car and on the glove box door, okay?”
Soon our Sailor slipped away into the day with a sense of hope- I need to stay alive until my daughter graduates from high school in 2035 was her new mantra, her orange lifeguard ring. As she got up to leave, my closing argument was simple, “Hey, after your daughter gets her high school diploma I trust and hope and pray you will choose life, that you will have the courage to stay alive just for you, what do you say?” With that challenge, she slowly got of her chair and with the coyest of grins gave me a fist bump and said, “I think I can do that.”
A Month Later
About a month later my phone rings, “Hey Chaps, this is Laura (not her real name), you got a second?” “Sure, of course.” My mind is quickly on over-drive, my brain scanning through the files of the Laura’s I have known and do now know. I remember the voice. Yes, it’s the single Sailor who has the four-year-old… #35… the suicidal Laura. “Hey, Chaps I want you to know things are going much better, but I’m really not calling for myself, I’m calling on behalf of my parents. They just wanted me to tell you thank you, so “thank you!”
“Thank you, Mark, for praying, thank you CBA community for praying, “heroing” into my life and the life of our Sailors at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, thank you Christ, our Hero, for answering.”
Join Pastor Mark in praying for Chaplain Greg and our other 199 chaplains scattered across the US and around the world in military and civilian institutions and communities. For more stores by and about CBAmerica chaplains, go to http://cbamerica.org/category/chaplaincy/. To receive electronic brochures on chaplaincy and requirements for endorsement, email Randy Brandt, director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.