guest post by Owen Chandler
[Editor’s note: Rev. Owen Chandler, the Senior Minister of Saguaro Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Tucson, was deployed earlier this year from the Army Reserve and serves as Battalion Chaplain of the 336th CCSB in Iraq. He frequently writes letters to his home church, and is graciously open to sharing them here on the SWC Blog. This is his July letter.]
My prayers and these words travel to meet you with the speed of God’s love. I miss you so. We are nearing the halfway mark and my affection for you remains unchanged. I am grateful for your continued prayers, letters, and packages. I am thankful you continue to grow stronger in your fulfillment of the vision that God placed on your hearts. That strength is contagious. It helps me when I have days here that leave me questioning the nature of my Call and the power of God’s peace.
The last few weeks were challenging in ways needed, unfortunate, and unwelcome. I spent most of the time traveling to a distant outpost. We have soldiers there that help with the supply and sustainment functions of the war effort. Nestled just behind the front lines of Fallujah, I experienced my first combat landing! This is where the plane does a corkscrew maneuver to land – and to think i was sad because I didn’t think I was going to get to ride any roller coasters this summer!
Amazingly, there in one of the austere environments we operate, I met another DOC [Disciples of Christ] chaplain, CH (MAJ) Fisher. I am biased, but i think the DOC develops some of the best ministers. After a week with CH Fisher, I am further convinced that we produce some of the best chaplains. The week I spent with him was like drinking from the font of military chaplaincy wisdom. The guy is the real deal. The soldiers there knew it, too. I watched him engage with the lowest private to the highest colonel. Each soldier left feeling affirmed by the grace of our Lord. I pray that one day I can operate with such skill.
It was fortunate that CH Fisher was there. I was able to process with him one of my most difficult moments of the deployment. As I stated, this outpost held close proximity to Fallujah, during the last days of the battle to retake the city. Each morning I awoke to the sound of cannons firing on the city. I guess you get used to them after a while, but not after only a week. Each day the sounds of war acted as the soundtrack to life on the post. At night, you could see the outskirts of the city due to the distant flashes of bombs and tracer rounds. Day after day, one would read about the desperation of the civilian population being used as shields by ISIS. I saw the faces of Saguaro in those trapped in Fallujah. They were the normal people without the means and connections to escape. My adrenaline pumped with the rage I felt at the evil of ISIS. How could one group be so depraved?
During my time there, the news stated that the battle was over. ISIS was defeated. One night, I was playing basketball with the Navy Seal team located there. In between games, they indicated the last remnants of the opposition were attempting to flee by a large caravan. The Iraqi Army had blocked their exit and there was this weird stalemate occurring just a few short miles from where I was playing. That night I stood on the flight line trying to talk my way onto a flight back to Taji. I was unsuccessful. There, under a darkened night sky, I looked to my left. Where there were once just stars, the sky illuminated, and the bowels of American military might were dropped onto the stalled ISIS fighters. And just like that, it was over; hundreds of lives gone.
It is a strange mix of emotions watching a scene like that. A minister’s empathy is a perplexing tool to bring to a combat theater. To be sure, I find assurance that those ISIS fighters are gone. I don’t understand the evil that drives them. As I told Emily before leaving for this deployment, I do not want my children to have to fight this battle. The effort to retake Fallujah is one more step closer to that reality. The event left me struggling with two issues. To start, I am uncomfortable with the anger I felt towards our enemy. Christ’s words to love our enemies stand before me like a test that I know I just failed. I guess the other thing that gets me is how complete, effective, and devastating our tools of war are in this world. We have spent so much money, intellectual effort, and time perfecting war. I wonder what would happen if we spent equal amounts of such trying to understand peace. Would our efforts be as complete, effective, and uplifting? These are the questions I spent the next few days discussing with CH Fisher. I am thankful for the honesty of these conversations and questions. I imagine I will be discussing these things within my soul for some time to come.
These may be thoughts born of war, but my news feed tells me that maybe they are questions which we should be entertaining back stateside, too. I wish I had something profound to tell you. I am sure that the wisdom of Bill Robey has been a steadying presence in your times of worship as of late. I only have this prayer I wrote in my journal which is growing out of this war:
[with respect to war, fear, and rage] We don’t accept it. We don’t lose heart. We act in love and love alone. We are created in God’s image and this means something. The resurrection is a shared reality that our hands and feet help recreate each day. That is our job. That is our calling. War may surround us. Death may try to overtake us. Revenge and rage may try to seduce us, but these don’t strengthen our souls. Live and pray with courage. If we don’t do it, then who will?
I apologize for the heaviness of this letter. I am fine. I am safe. I am loved. I’ve attached photos to try to show you that I’m still smiling and bringing smiles to the hearts of others.
Until we meet again,
Finally, here is a link to the story I referenced in my letter. Thought you might be interested.