Chaplain (COL) Chad Bellamy. U.S. Air Force
My first assignment as a military chaplain took me to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. I was so new to the military that I could not tell what planes were in the air and what all the rank insignia meant. My highest goal at first was to ensure I saluted the right people!
So, maybe it was with the eye of the outsider that I noticed the munitions flight of the maintenance group I was assigned to. This group is responsible for packing the bullets and preparing the payload. Their job is a thankless one; the pilots get all the glory while they get left behind on the ground.
Because of the dangerous nature of the work and the potential for something to go horribly wrong, the munitions flight was isolated from the rest of the Wing. They were tucked away in a secure area at the end of a road, far away from the base's day-to-day operations, behind a barrier of trees, dirt walls, and a wired gate. To visit, you would have to approach the security camera at the gate, hit a speaker button, and request entrance before they would open it. It was a little world unto itself, almost a leper colony. If you were not part of the flight, you never considered them. You were thankful not to be one of them.
I went down there one Friday afternoon to introduce myself. As they showed me around, I noticed an unused ping pong table pushed aside in one area; now, I love sports, rivalry, and competition. When I mentioned the table, one of the guys suggested we could play sometime if I wanted to.
"Let's play right now!" I said.
I think my skill level was a little better than they expected from a chaplain. Nobody argued when I said, "Hey, I'll be back next Friday." From then on, whenever I would approach the gate, I would hear them shout, "The chaplain's here; get the table out!"
It was not long before we had a regular gig going. As the airmen got to know and trust me, they started coming to me with their concerns. "Hey, you got a minute?" was something I began to hear during my visits.
One senior airman, in particular, was amidst a genuine life crisis despite her young age. She was barely out of her teens and facing a transition for which she was poorly equipped. She was starting to think there had to be more to life than partying, but she was unsure what. She questioned whether she should be in the military but did not know what else there was for her. At one time, her faith guided her through life, but that was a distant memory.
The senior airman was newly married, and her husband was also on active duty in the Air Force. Sometimes, young servicemen and women marry for the wrong reasons. You get paid more if you are married, and you get to move out of the dorms and into the married housing community. She was struggling to make her marriage work.
Over the next few months, the senior airman visited my office often. We talked about making choices in life that reap rewards rather than regrets down the road. My words often seemed insufficient for her needs, but I trusted that I was, in some small way, showing her God at work.
Unexpectedly, in November 2005, my family and I were issued a permanent change of station to Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. I was sorry to leave my ministry at McGuire, especially my ping pong buddies at the munitions flight.
In Colorado, we settled in and got involved in a local church, quickly becoming part of a small group. Over time, we developed a close friendship with the retired couple who hosted the group at their home and had a real heart for ministering to active-duty military personnel.
One day, they mentioned they were trying to sell a home they owned in the small Pennsylvania town where they were raised. The real estate market was tough, and the house was not selling. Our small group began to pray for them in this situation.
In time, they were pleased to report that they had an offer on the house. The offer came from neighbors they had known for years. The parties agreed on a purchase price, and the couple flew to Pennsylvania to close the deal.
When they returned to Colorado, they told us this story: The day came for everyone to gather for the closing. The neighbors were there with their daughter, for whom they were buying the house. Our small group leaders had known the daughter as a young child.
Before closing, our friends chatted, caught up with their neighbors, and asked the young woman about her life. She told them she was separating from the military and returning to live in her hometown. She spoke about her time in the Air Force and, eventually, mentioned she had worked for a munitions flight at McGuire AFB. She talked warmly about a chaplain there who had helped her through a difficult period in her life and how devastated she was when he and his family left the base for an assignment at Schriever AFB.
Our friends looked at each other in surprise. "Could you describe the chaplain to us?" they asked. She was puzzled, but she went on to describe a tall chaplain with red hair, blue eyes, and an outgoing personality. She described ...me! The young woman shared excitedly how our conversations had helped her work through some of life's biggest questions, how my prayers for her had grounded her in faith and driven out her fear. She and her husband were expecting a child, and she felt she was finally on a good path in life.
Amazed, I listened to my friends tell their story. It was so vivid for me that it felt like I was right there with them at the closing, like I was standing in front of this young woman and sharing her excitement about her new life.
As a chaplain, you rarely experience the fruits of your labor. Your job can be as thankless as that of the munitions flight. But God does indeed order our steps. Nothing we do in His name is ever in vain. The world is a small place, and we sow seeds of God's love into the lives of others; we never know where the flowers will bloom.
Thank You, Lord, for this timely word of encouragement. You know, it's just what we need when we need it.
Chaplain Chad Bellamy was a youth pastor for fourteen years at churches in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia before he entered the Air Force in 2002 as a chaplain endorsed by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. He has served on bases in New Jersey, Colorado, Texas, England, and others. He and his wife, Jeri, have three children.
***Visit https://iphc.org/evangelism/chaplaincy/ to learn more about this ministry