During my time working with the staff of British Army Training Unit Suffield, I was fortunate to get to know many fine padres from the UK’s Royal Army Chaplain’s Department. Several kept in touch with me once they left Suffield and deployed shortly thereafter to Afghanistan. This story is from one of them, who was in Helmand Province sometime in 2013, and I was reminded of it recently while sorting some emails. It’s as good an illustration of the work of an army chaplain as any I can think of, and it’s too good not to share.
Some time ago, a young man spoke to me about his role as the resupply fuel truck driver. He makes journeys to forward patrol bases carrying 50,000 litres of fuel and he affectionately referred to his vehicle as the ‘suicide wagon’. I made a mental note to travel with him on his next trip and, as the Sergeant Major had to cancel his plans at the last minute, I was fortunate enough to take his place alongside the driver only a week later. We lined up in a convoy of vehicles waiting to leave the base and the conversation went something like this – Me: “Shall I say a prayer before we go?” Driver: “Go on then, when you’re ready, Padre!”
I gave him a set of ‘dog tags’ with a Scripture verse and a cross and these are now hung by their chain from the seatbelt cutters mounted in the cab. As we chatted the driver asked about my sharing the risks and not carrying a weapon for protection. (As chaplains we are ordained ministers from our sending Churches and although we wear uniform we are not soldiers and do not bear arms, we are here simply to serve). I always take the stance that the lads are my protection; “we’ll be alright, Padre” he said, “you’ll see!”
The Church calls this ‘Incarnational’ ministry – in the same way that God emptied Himself of all the glory of heaven and lived an earthly life among us as Jesus – so we seek to share the same lives and conditions as those we serve. That young man is getting married in October at the end of the tour. He didn’t need me to say I would pray for him, although I do – he needed me to travel with him along the road. Oh, and he was right too, we were fine!
I’m happy to say that this Padre and the young driver returned safely from their tour. MP+