Army Chaplains' Blog

Archive for August 2011

‘Now there were staying in Jerusalem, God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven’ (Acts 2:5)’

It was dark as I drove my white pickup along the dusty track to the Church tent in Bastion 2. I yawned, tired from the day’s exertions and the heat of this desert. It was Pentecost and my first service that morning had gone well, but now it was 20.00 hrs and this evening’s meeting would start at 20.30 hours but it would be around 22.30 before I would finally zip up the church, having cleaned it following the service.

I felt physically drained and reluctantly parked my vehicle outside. I turned off the engine and waited as it shuddered its protest at being denied fuel. In the quietness and the ticking of cooling metal I thought I could hear singing, but dismissed it until I opened the car door. Sure enough there was a deep baritone chorus coming from somewhere. It was clearly being sung in another language but I recognised one word, repeated for effect: ‘hallelujah’! I grabbed my gear and quickly entered the church to find it packed out with around sixty Tongan soldiers singing in their native tongue. I was confused, had they come in to take their own service unaware that another service was planned for 20.30? I stood at the back of the church and tried to see who their chaplain was. But the front of the church appeared empty. Then I saw one of the regular church members and whispered: ‘Who are they waiting for?’ He looked surprised at the question and simply said: ‘They are waiting for you Padre!’

‘Doh!’ Of course they were so I quickly got a grip of myself and began the embarrassing process of preparing for the 20.30 hour service with my congregation already present and seated, more than that, fired up on high octane praise!

I set up my ipod and speaker system, and prepared the altar for Holy Communion. Just before I started the service I ascertained that this was the Tongan Force Protection Company who had been in theatre since December 2010 and they were flying back to Tonga tomorrow. They had come church to give thanks for their safe return.

So we started a deeply moving and memorable Pentecost service. We took it in turns to sing one hymn in English and the next in Tongan. The British contingent arrived in typical military fashion closer to 20.30 hours and so we had people sat in the aisles and on sofas at the rear of the tent. My congregation sung lustily and the deep baritone chorus resonated from our tent all over Bastion 2. We began to draw a crowd and people kept on opening the tent door to see just what was going on. Perhaps they thought we were drunk, but it was only 9 o’clock in the evening!

I narrated the events of the first Pentecost taken from Luke’s account in Acts chapter 2 and preached to the beaming smiles of the soon to be returning home congregation. Like the first Pentecost God’s worship was heard in many languages, and his Spirit moved hearts as his word was preached. Strangely my earlier fatigue and lethargy evaporated in the heat of pure worship and I praised God for this unique opportunity and glimpse of heaven.
Then we broke bread together and corporately shared in the meal that Jesus has given us that transcend all cultures and even time itself. As I stood there with these huge Tongan soldiers receiving the bread and wine, often towering above me, I praised God as I experienced first hand just how far those early Christian witnesses had travelled following that first outpouring. It was Henry Martin, that pioneering Anglican missionary to India, who once said:

“The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him,
the more intensely missionary we must become.”

Here was the proof, both in my Tongan congregation and my call to the deserts of Afghanistan.
‘Come Holy Spirit!’

Padre Cole Maynard