Yesterday the CMO Cell went on a mission to check on the status of the excavation and clearing of the old bombed out marble factory. While our Commander, MAJ Spafford, was meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Mines, Ministry of Finance and the President of Young Sons Construction Co. over tea, I took some time to roam the property in search of photo ops. Suddenly, over on the eastern border of the property, I noticed something so western and out of place that I had to walk over for a look. There before my eyes, surrounded by a herd of children, was the ice cream man. That’s right, the ice cream man was strolling the dusty paths of eastern Kabul in search of eager young customers. What a contrast to the environment around me. One of the Soldiers in our cell, SFC Alvey, asked if I wanted an ice cream bar (Apparently the ice cream man was willing to sell us 20 bars for $5.00 US). I honestly wanted one — it would have been a temporary relief of my dry cotton mouth. However, the longer I’m here the more skeptical I become of everything and everyone. Where did the milk in the ice cream come from? How old was the ice cream? Who was this ice cream man anyway? Was his trip near us a coincidence or a plan? Needless to say, I passed on the offer; but seeing the ice cream man in Afghanistan is one more example of the strangeness of this land and its people.
Christians around the world are holding special religious services this week in honor of Jesus Christ’ death and resurrection. Holy Week has always been a time when I renew my personal relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Tonight the Chaplain held a special Holy Week service in the old warehouse on Camp Phoenix. The title of tonight’s service was “The Seven Places.” The seven places represents the seven places on Jesus’ body (Back, Head, Hands, Feet and Side) where he shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus had to die for us to have eternal life. He was the perfect Lamb. He was the only sacrifice that could save us. Since the Fall of man, sin has controlled the hearts and minds of man. It is the reason for our personal problems and the turmoil that exists around the world. Sin is the cause of the wars man wages against man. We all are in the fight. Sin is the real “War on Terror.” Thankfully, there’s hope. God has offered all men around the world and here in Afghanistan an open invitation to have true peace and freedom through the blood of Jesus Christ. His Mercy and Grace is available to everyone. I would like to share with you a prayer I delivered tonight at “The Seven Places” service. It’s simple, but true.
Let us pray.
Most Merciful God, tonight we come together in your presence to sing Your praises, listen to Your Word and confess our Sins before You — our Father in Heaven.
Lord, ever since the Fall, we have struggled with sin. Beginning with Adam we have experienced and seen the devastating effects sin has had on Your people. We openly acknowledge that sin spoils our hearts, corrupts our minds, and destroys our relationships with one another and with You. Lord, we recognize that we are too weak to overcome sins’ destructive ways. We all fall short of Your glory. We deserve eternal death.
Thankfully, You are a merciful God who loves us despite our human failings and sinful ways. You knew all along that we could not truly experience real freedom and peace on earth without Your lifesaving plan of Salvation. You love us so much that You sacrificed and shed the redemptive blood of Your one and only Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.
Lord, tonight we pray that you will be with the Lay Ministers who will lead us through the truthful account of the Seven Places Your Son Jesus Christ bled for us. May their Words and Your Holy Spirit draw each of us closer to You.
In your Holy Name we pray. Amen.
For the past few weeks I’ve been wondering whether or not Jordan and Tuck received the video I taped at the USO studio at Camp Atterbury. The USO will tape a video of a soldier reading books to their children and send it to them to watch. Last night I finally asked Janie if the kids ever received the package I mailed. She said the kids received it several weeks ago. Curious as to why they never said anything about it, I asked, “Well, how did they like it?” Janie said, “I’m not sure if I should tell you.” I pressed further, “What do you mean?” She said, “I’m afraid it might upset you. Are you sure you want to know?” I said, “Yes, I want to know.” So she told me what happened when the USO package arrived. Tuck, who loves getting mail, got really excited when he learned a package from his Daddy had arrived. He loves it when the GPS Man (That’s what he calls the UPS Man/Post Man) delivers packages to the house. Janie said he grabbed the package and ran upstairs. He shed his school clothes and quickly put on his full Army Man uniform I bought him at Fort Jackson before I deployed. Janie said he then took the video to the bonus room and put it in the DVD player. She said he backed away from the TV and stood there saluting the screen at attention while he waited for his Daddy to appear. What Tuck didn’t realize (He’s only 5 years old) is that it was a recording, not live. So when the video began with me talking to him on the screen, he thought he could talk back. So he stood there, still at attention, talking to his Daddy on the screen. He soon realized it wasn’t live. That apparently upset him to no end. So he took off from the bonus room to his bedroom to cry (It makes my eyes misty just telling this story.). Janie said the poor little fella was so sad afterwards. It really tore him up. For the next week he carried the two books around with him everywhere he went; but he couldn’t bear to watch the video again. Jordan, hearing how Tuck reacted, couldn’t stomach to watch it either. I can tell you that hearing stories like this is gut wrenching. The fact that I can’t be with my wife and kids is the hardest part about this deployment. The story of the USO video is just a tiny snapshot of the kind of stories that occur every day in the lives of deployed Soldiers and their families back home. The pain that comes with the separation never goes away. It’s like a cut that never heals.
This weekend several of us volunteered our time to mentor the Afghan Boy Scouts. Major Brazelton (My Battle Buddy from Camp Atterbury) really engaged the Scouts with a discussion on the topic of trust; SPC Potts taught a great lesson on conservation and the importance of protecting the soil from waste and trash; and CPT Lane once again showed them how to build and cook with a solar oven. Afterwards he shared a rice dish with the Scouts that was cooked by the sun. I closed the meeting by giving the Scouts ink pens donated by my cousins Doug and Nancy and their Church in Winston-Salem, NC. I instructed the Scouts to use the pens to take notes and journal each of the lessons we teach them. Since the Afghan Scouts don’t have merit badge pamphlets or a Scout Handbook, they will need to create their own. I guess you can say the Afghan Scouts are now our Pen Pals!
Today more than 40,000 runners & walkers participated in the 2010 Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston. Among the participants were several wives of 1/178 FA BN Soldiers, including my Bride Janie and our friend Kathy Littlejohn. Janie sent me a blackberry message a little awhile ago telling me that she and Kathy ran the race. I was expecting them to walk it; because just a couple of weeks ago Janie suffered a compound fracture in her toe. The injury killed her training for the Bridge Run. I am very proud of Janie and Kathy and all the spouses of Soldiers that completed today’s annual race. BTW, the Soldiers of the 1/178 FA BN also ran today. Our Commander had all the officers and Senior NCO’s run the track at Camp Phoenix today at the same time as the actual Bridge Run in Charleston. My time was slow (I run like a turtle) but I finished the 6.2 miles in 1 hour 20 minutes.
One of the unique qualities about the modern American military is the fact that everyone who joins is a volunteer. A volunteer is someone who is willing to sacrifice their time, talents, and treasures for a worthy cause. In the case of the American Soldier and his/her family, they make the greatest sacrifice in defense of freedom. John McCain, who constantly gives me heartburn, is right when he says Americans aspire to a cause greater than themselves. It is inherently in our nature. Today I had the privilege of spending some quality volunteer time with a few of America’s finest volunteers — American Soldiers. Several members of the 1/178 FA BN and Soldiers from a few other units at Camp Phoenix volunteered their time to clean out the Operation Outreach conex’s and prepare HA bags for our first mission drop. The show of support by the troops was outstanding and their willingness to spend their lunch hour in the hot, dry, dusty Afghan heat is a true testament to their compassionate hearts. It’s the essence of the American volunteer.
I had an interesting conversation tonight with a Lieutenant Colonel who is in his last week of a one year deployment. I ran into him right before our weekly Bible Study at Chapel. We got into a short discussion about our work here and the needs of the Afghan people. He and I agreed that the job in Afghanistan will not and cannot be finished in a year. In fact, the work that needs to be done in this country will not be completed during our life time. It’s a sobering thought, but it’s the truth. The Colonel then said something very boldly, “This country will never be fixed until the Afghan people come to know Jesus Christ. Their religion is holding them back from truly understanding real freedom.” He also said, “I’m sorry if this offends you, but it’s just what I believe.” Of course, I told him he was talking to a Believer. He’s right, Jesus is the answer. True freedom comes from God Almighty and it’s available to everyone. As an American Soldier I am not allowed to proselytize to the Afghan people. However, through my words and actions I can demonstrate the unique kind of love and compassion that can only come to us through Jesus Christ. Just as God expected His early people to know Him through the world around them, we too are His instruments for showing others the true path to righteousness and salvation. All it takes is one new believer to light the fire of freedom in AFG and the whole country could be changed. History is full of men and women who did just that.