One day last summer Smith, who pastors Grace on the Ashley Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., was looking through a set of chaplain prayer cards received from the North American Mission Board. Each card highlighted the ministry of a Southern Baptist military chaplain and listed prayer requests for him.
"When I got to the last card I said, 'Look, I know Tim,'" Smith said. The face on the last card in the set belonged to U.S. Army Chaplain Maj. Tim Wilson. The two men had been friends in college. Seeing Wilson's card made Smith wonder if he could be a military chaplain as well.
"I immediately thought I was too old and I have no military background, but the idea would not leave me. I talked to my wife and she said, 'I think that's a great idea,'" Smith said.
Church staff and leadership encouraged him to pursue the idea, too, along with members of Grace. Smith thought it was a long shot, but he applied. Everything fell into place. On Christmas Eve 2013 he was sworn in as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the naval reserve. Smith and Wilson have corresponded by email since then and hope to reunite soon.
Beyond the goal of having Southern Baptists pray for chaplains, last year's prayer card mailing has had a far-reaching impact on chaplains and churches alike.
"There has been an absolutely positive response from both chaplains who have received support and from Southern Baptists who have expressed gratitude for gaining a greater appreciation for their chaplains and the roles they fulfill, especially their evangelistic ministries," Doug Carver, NAMB's executive director for chaplaincy and a retired U.S. Army Major General, said. "The prayer cards certainly met the intent of our goal to create a vehicle for communication between chaplains and churches and to keep chaplains connected with churches."
A new set of 50 military chaplain prayer cards will arrive at Southern Baptist churches in time for distribution before Memorial Day. Additional cards may be obtained by calling 866-407-6262, or visiting http//www.nambstore.com .
"As soon as the prayer card packs went out last year, I began to receive emails and then notes and cards," chaplain Endel Lee said. "I received more than 150 messages from people who were praying for me, and that is just from the people who took the time to send me something. Pastors told me they handed out the cards at prayer meetings. I heard from people who kept the cards in their homes and in their cars to remember to pray for me."
Lee, who serves as NAMB's military chaplaincy church planting catalyst, said he needed the specific prayer because he was on a deployment in Djibouti, a nation that is 94 percent Muslim. "It is not the most dangerous place I have ever served, but it was a hostile environment. It was a tremendous encouragement to me to know people were praying for me."
After seeing Lee's prayer card one prayer group contacted him asking how they could support him. Was there something they could send? Bibles was Lee's answer.
"They sent two boxes of Bibles, not small paperbacks, but nice Bibles. I gave all of them away before I left. As I discipled people, I asked them if they had a Bible of their own. When they told me they did not, I was able to present them with one of the Bibles the sent," Lee said.
"The prayer cards are a meaningful symbol of the support of Southern Baptists and the prayer coverage they provide for chaplains," Carver said. "That prayer increases the effectiveness of chaplains as they serve."
Carver shared that one pastor told him he understood for the first time the critical nature of chaplains' roles in evangelism and their connection to the local church because of the cards. Chaplains also affirmed their appreciation for intercessory prayer and the support they received to Carver.
"One chaplain took the opportunity to build a personal prayer support network from the responses he received from his prayer card. He connected with Southern Baptists who reached out to him, and he now provides praise and prayer request reports to his network of prayer warriors," Carver said.
To explore more about chaplaincy through NAMB, visit namb.net/chaplaincy.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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