From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] A reminder of God's presence

Date Tue, 29 Jun 2004 12:57:06 -0500

Note #8334 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

A reminder of God's presence
June 29, 2004

A reminder of God's presence

Presbyterian chaplains tried to be a blessing to troops in Iraq

by Nancy D. Borst

RICHMOND, June 29 - Two Presbyterian chaplains who have cared for U.S. troops
on the front line in the Iraq war shared some of their experiences with a
group of about 75 people at a General Assembly lunch at the Marriott Hotel on

Maj. Barbara "Barb" Sherer, of the U.S. Army, who was deployed with the 3rd
Infantry Division, said it was when the troops were told to unpack their
chemical-weapon suits that they knew the war was real.

"I had a soldier ask me to bless his vehicle before we headed out," she
recalled. "I don't normally bless things, but I thought, 'There's no harm,'
so I did it. We all gathered around and blessed the vehicle."

"I said, 'Lord, bless this vehicle. Bless its driver, keep him alert and
awake and able to face difficult situations. And bring him safely home,'" she

She said she saw the impact of this simple act on the faces of the troops,
and decided to bless every vehicle. Even a fierce sandstorm could not deter
her from putting on her stole and trekking to every one of the unit's more
than 100 vehicles.

She wasn't prepared for what happened during the second or third blessing.

"I saw the driver staring at me intently, even through the sandstorm, and saw
the look on her face as she mouthed 'Thank you.' Then I got it - It's not
about some lovey, touchy thing. It was a reminder of God's presence for that

Sherer said she continued putting hands on vehicles to bless them, sometimes
even under the hot mid-day sun that turned metal hoods into hot plates. Then
one day, as she stood by her own Humvee, a soldier walked up, put a hand on
the hood and closed his eyes for a few moments. He said he'd seen her pray
for everyone else's vehicle and he wanted to pray for hers.

"In that moment, I knew I would never see a blessing in the same way again,"
said Sherer.

Lt. Col. Gilley "Gil" Richardson, also an Army chaplain, was stationed with
the 4th Infantry Division. He said he was given the code name "Sheep Dog" in
respect to Christ, the only Shepherd. But the name reminded Richardson of his
important duty to help his "flock."  His unit pushed into Iraq from Turkey on
Easter night in 2003.

He learned to be creative in ministering to the troops, and recognized that
the most important thing he could do was be a visible presence. Many soldiers
learned to recognize his Texas stride and would call out to the "Chap."

As an experienced chaplain, he at times prayed with less experienced
chaplains before services of worship or memorials. And he had to acknowledge
the realities of war. "I told them that no matter how much we prayed, we were
going to lose young people," he said.

His unit stayed in one of Saddam Hussein's recreation palaces in Baghdad,
which had been heavily damaged by "smart" bombs ("Believe me, those smart
bombs hit what they're supposed to," he joked), which had shattered most of
the windows and left holes in the structure.

One day the soldiers began pondering aloud what sort of evil had been plotted
in the halls where they now stood. The holes in the walls allowed a fresh
breeze to blow through the building. And Richardson said it was like the
Spirit signaling a "new hope" for Iraq.

There are about 145 active Presbyterian chaplains, according to Edward T.
Brogan, director of the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military
Personnel, which sponsored the lunch. He said military recruiters frequently
request Presbyterian chaplains, because they can baptize, and they "treat
everyone well."

The 216th General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase came to the lunch to
greet the chaplains and thank them for their service. He said he'd
encountered some of them in his travels abroad, and wanted to assure them
that they have his support and invited them to be in dialogue with him during
his term.

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