Chaplain in Afghanistan reflects Christ's peace - Word&Way

Chaplain in Afghanistan reflects Christ’s peace

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (BP)—Capt. Kevin Humphrey's last quarterly report to the North American Mission Board's chaplaincy group reads like the script of a Hollywood blockbuster.

But the combat incidents are real—true wartime stories of battlefield death, horrific injury, bloodshed, bravery and close calls. If it were a movie, it could be titled A day in the life of a Baptist chaplain in Afghanistan. "It has been a very challenging time here in Kandahar," said the 38-year-old chaplain, who serves in the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing of the U.S. Air Force.

"The dangers are very real, and it weighs on the people's minds here. Back in the summer, there were rocket attacks almost every two days or so and sometimes twice a day," Humphrey said, adding the attacks have slowed this fall.

Combat deaths in the region come so often, American flags never go more than four days without dropping to half-staff in honor of the fallen, Humphrey said.

Humphrey—one of about 190 military chaplains in the Afghanistan theater of operations—said Taliban forces in the area constantly are adapting their methods to inflict the most damage and death to U.S. and coalition forces.

One of Humphrey's most recent "scares" came at the nearby base hospital where he was volunteering as chaplain so the Navy chaplain usually on duty could take a well-deserved day off. While Humphrey couldn't reveal details because of security concerns, the incident came close to claiming his life and the lives of hospital personnel—most of whom never had been so close to dying before.

"It's brutal at the hospital, and the ministry is tough. They've had many single, double or triple amputees come through in the last two months. The things you are exposed to there are things that no human being should have to see. But it is a powerful ministry to the staff and patients."

Many dangers in Afghanistan come without warning, Humphrey said.

"During a recent rocket attack, a Department of Defense compound was hit," Humphrey recounted. "Their chaplain was unavailable, so I went and ministered to 250 shaken DOD army civilians.

"The building's generator just happened to go out about 30 minutes prior to the rocket attack, so only six people were in the building at the time it was hit. Had the generator not gone out, several people would have been killed. Thanks to God, only six had minor shrapnel injuries.

"I spoke with one man who couldn't understand why he was not in the building at the time and didn't die. I shared that God says in Hebrews we are appointed once to die and that our day of death has been fixed by God, and that God has a plan and purpose for our lives. While he is not yet a Christian, he is now seeking God for the first time in his life."

Humphrey conducts seven combat services each week for his units.

Services are at-tended not only by American troops but also by soldiers from the coalition nations—Brits, Canadians, Pak-istani Christians and others. "It makes me think that this is what heaven will be like, with every tribe and nation."

Eight people accepted Christ in the first service Humphrey preached recently, followed by 15 in the second service and three in the third.

Although Humphrey's job as a chaplain is difficult because of the hostile and chaotic environment in Afghanistan—"there is real tension here, and some take it much better than others"—his ministry also is rich.

"The very real presence of Christ has been here in the midst of difficulty," Humphrey said. "Psalm 91 has become very real for me. I have not feared for my life since I have been here—not because I think I'm brave but because Christ has been so present."

Humphrey and wife Jennifer—who's back "home" at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan—are the parents of five children ranging in ages from 3 to 11. He graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a master of divinity degree in 2003 and was a pastor three years prior to entering active duty as an Air Force chaplain. Humphrey is slated to serve in Afghanistan until January 2012, when he will be reassigned to Okinawa.

The National Bible Association, based in New York City, recently announced Humphrey—out of 500 Air Force chaplains—is one of three 2011 recipients of the association's Wither-spoon Award, given annually to military chaplains representing the Army, Air Force and Navy. The award is given in cooperation with each U.S. military branch's chief of chaplains and is named for the famous World War I and II chaplain, Maurice Witherspoon.

The award recognizes chaplains who "promote Bible reading in a very creative, unique and effective way and whose actions and day-to-day activities encourage others to read, study and apply the Bible's principles to their lives."