Army Chaplains' Blog

Archive for June 2011

‘IT’S LIFE JIM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT!’

We are told that from dust we come and to dust we shall return, which makes Afghanistan close to the origin of all life! Out here dust is a way of life. Having just arrived I was on the ranges carrying out some critical training and trying to adjust from the green lush fields of Lancashire to the brown dust-bowl of the desert which is now my home. The sun shone down on us from its elevated position high in the sky, my body bleeding sweat in a futile effort to cool the core. Its 43 degrees and it is only my fifth day! Lectures persist, relentless like the orange globe above our heads. Water is imbibed frequently, almost incessantly, as the body tries to replenish the litres it has shed in coolant.

Morale is high, training excellent, but the body is exhausted. It takes around two weeks to acclimatise and by day five I am tired just trying to walk around let alone run. The gym is on the back-burner as the ‘back-burner’ makes all thought of physical training sheer madness.

And to top it all, I have a sore throat and a cold. I have left the damp coast of the North West for the arid desert of Afghanistan, and I have caught a cold! Medics explain that it is all part of the adjustment process, a combination of movement from air-conditioning to sun-conditioning supported by a dry and dusty context that coats your membranes and blocks your nasal passages.

Feeling less than my best I try to adjust and prepare for my new role as Joint Force Senior Chaplain, but at present feel totally inadequate. Prayer is required and reliance on Him who is greater than I. No point building my house in the sand – it is the sand that is the problem here! I need a firmer foundation for my ministry if I am to be found up for the task. What was it that the Apostle Paul wrote at such a moment like this…

‘What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Romans 7:24-25)

Padre Cole Maynard

More news from Padre Cole:

‘It is day two, which in fact is day one in theatre having arrived just past midnight! I am jet-lagged, yet excited at the prospects of the day whilst also not a little daunted at the steep learning curve ahead.

My colleague and predecessor takes me around the lines and introduces me to important characters and places but after around eight hours they all seem to merge into one. I find myself overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead and the situational awareness I need to achieve in a very short time.

I am surprised at just how much this Main Operating Base has changed since last time I was here. There is only one place I recognise which although substantially changed in furniture remains in the same location it was three years ago, and that is the church. An old familiar tent with its weathered wooden cross announcing its solace and shelter.

After a last introduction, Jonathon recognises my weary state and offers me down-time. So I exercise my new found freedom and decide I need to spend time with God. Some reflection and spiritual re-energising is required. So in the cooler dark of the evening I embark on a journey to the church. How hard can that be? I used to sleep in that old tent when I frequently visited Bastion in 2007. However, the once familiar paths of this MOB are now a maze of tented camps and ISO containers. Nothing is where it should be and now it is dark, I am soon lost in an unfamiliar conurbation.

I try to remember the route that I previously took but this just confuses me more and I have to stand still, shocked at how quickly I have lost touch with this base’s evolution. And then I see it, a large white beacon, precariously perched on top of a protective wall, and lit up by a strip light, the old weathered wooded cross.

It stands proud above the tentage calling me to prayer. I smile and head towards it, but the tent is not empty. I arrive hot on the heels of a soldier looking for the Bible Study. I inform him that it has moved to the next day and so we chat for a while and I assure him of the healthy Christian community that meets in this place and he leaves a happier man. I move through the tent to the back and look around the familiar office where I used to rest my head, when I again hear the tent zips singing their sharp song. I walk back into the church to find another person looking for the Bible Study. I repeat my earlier conversation following which he says: ‘Padre, can I ask you a question?’ So I spend forty-five minutes exploring the call of God upon this RAF Pilot’s life, and talk through how we can know whether God is calling us into the ministry. I close the conversation with prayer seeking God’s will and revelation for this young officer’s life.

Finally I am alone to commune with God. I read Psalm 61 and smile at the appropriate words of another military man:

‘Hear my cry O God, listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.’ (Psalm 61:1-3)

I pray for the ministry here and for my family. My concerns begin to flow away in the delight of heavenly communion and I know that even here, from the ends of this desert camp, God is still my strong tower, my rock.

I zip the church tent closed and make my way to the coffee shop for one last beverage before bed. I have my motorcycle magazine with me to help me escape this place on a caffeine and bike ride. Coffee on the table and magazine in hand I sit and read for a while when all of a sudden the server comes up and places a plate in front of me. He smiles ‘for you’ he says before disappearing. In all my times on deployment and drinking in such shops never have I been given a free cake! But what is more important, of all the many cakes he could have given me, he had chosen my very favourite, an iced Belgian bun. How did he know this was my favourite and why the gift? The answer was obvious; he had been prompted to minister to me in this gentle way by a Father whose love we can never escape, no matter where we are in the world. I have arrived!’

Padre Cole Maynard