Army Chaplains' Blog

Wandering with a purpose

Posted on: May 22, 2017

[Army chaplains are imbued with a wandering inner being, constantly on the move to the next exercise, next deployment, next posting. Here the Rev’d Justin Bradbury reflects on an exercise in Latvia.]

The gospel lectionary reading for the day I arrived in Latvia was bemusing. Matthew 10:5-15 encouraged me to travel light (leaving behind gold, silver or coins.) In fact, I forgot to pack a bank card and thought 100 Euros to be enough money as I would be living in the field for the next seven days. I deliberately overlooked the encouragement from Jesus not to take an extra shirt and had packed in line with the kit list. I also ignored the warning not to take a walking stick; I go everywhere – as far as is practicable – with my trusty shepherd’s crook.

So, I arrived at the airport to be charged an excess on baggage, as the system failed to register two pieces of baggage, so my grip bag cost 55 euros. The airline refused to let me take my crook on board as hand luggage, cost: 60 euros. My budget was blown, but thankfully I was travelling with the Commanding Officer and he had packed his credit card!

Travelling light is an impossibility in the Army. It might seem that my crook is an unnecessary affectation, but God made it very clear before I joined the Army that I needed it. In a sea of green uniform … I was easily spotted. For me, the crook is a daily reminder that I am called to walk alongside soldiers. Wandering with my crook means that I am liable to be either actively avoided or stopped…

As we all know, being away with the lads brings many opportunities for the random conversation. The most extraordinary one came late at night as I was wandering back from having had a shower. A soldier stopped me to share his experience in having taken Holy Communion for the first time earlier that day. He received the invitation to come and eat. He said, falteringly, that he felt different, new and clean. He was trying to make sense of it all. What an opener for a gospel conversation, while just wearing a towel!

Wandering with Jesus always changes things. We are often told that the padre is good for morale. On a very basic level we do this by enabling a different kind and quality of conversation. I am cautious in being seen as some kind of mood-enhancing personality. My mood and energy levels ebb and flow; only Jesus is consistently, lovingly for us. As I prayed that I would be led by Him in my wandering, I encountered the painful and precious stories in the lives of soldiers from many nations. The fact that i forgot to take certain proscribed items, and wilfully carried others, did not stop the Great Shepherd from having His say.

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