Saturday, March 30, 2013

Rose Bowls Are Red and Angels Are Blue...

I guess you could say that January 2013 came up roses for us.  Taking advantage of free tickets made available through our base MWR (Moral, Welfare, and Recreation) office, Tammy and I spent New Year's day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA (Wisconsin vs. Stanford).  Although we weren't rooting for either team, we had a great time enjoying the beautiful weather, the company of friends, and what turned out to be a fairy competitive game.  This was certainly a nice way to relax after a very busy Christmas season!

Then it was back to training!  I mentioned in my last blog post that I had begun training for my first Super Spartan Race ( that would take place on Saturday, 26 January.  The race consists of an 8+ mile course with 25+ obstacles (climbing ropes and walls, crawling under barbed wire, carrying sand bags, etc.) through the hills of Temecula, CA.  With only a few weeks remaining before the event, my training regimen went into overdrive.  In the end, all of the extra time and energy paid off.  I was able to team up with a Marine from Camp Pendleton at the beginning of the race, tackling the course together.  Desiring to finish in under 3 hours, I was pleased to finish in 2:54:15.  It was one of the greatest challenges and greatest experiences I've ever had.  I can't wait for my next Spartan Race!  Thank you to my lovely wife who took photos and cheered me on all the way.

A few weeks after the Spartan Race (I think it took me that long to recuperate!), I was very surprised to learn that I had been chosen to receive the El Centro Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Service Award.  The award's ceremony took place on Friday, 08 February, as part of a fundraising dinner for the NAF El Centro Airshow.  I was humbled and honored.  Organizing community relations projects and serving alongside our Sailors is one of the great joys of being a Navy chaplain.

As these events transpired, they did so with the Navy's Blue Angels flying overhead.  Beginning their training at NAF El Centro each January, their appearance in the skies is commonplace over the base.  However, their flying is obviously far from commonplace.  They are simply the best--both in the air and on the ground!

I am grateful to the several members of the Blue Angels' ground crew who volunteered their time to participate in our monthly COMREL in Niland, CA.

The Blue Angels' presence on base, of course, always means that the annual NAF El Centro Airshow is fast approaching.  It was preceded again this year by the 3rd Annual Blue Angels 10k Fun Run/Walk.  Tammy and I both participated this year.  I was pleased to complete the race in 54:15, a personal best.  Unfortunately, due to a leg injury, Tammy was forced to walk most of the way.

The NAF El Centro Airshow was better than ever this year.  Held on Saturday, 16 March, the food, static displays, aerial acts, and other activities were very enjoyable.  And the Blue Angels were simply amazing.

The fun continued the following weekend on Saturday, 23 March, at the Boutwell Shootout and Cookout.  First Christian Church of El Centro invited our military members, both British and American, to join them for this annual event as a "thank you" to them for their service to our nation.  Sixteen military members participated.  Tammy and I joined in as well.  We had great fun!  As a Navy Chaplain at NAF El Centro, I am so very thankful for the ongoing partnerships we have with our local churches in the Imperial Valley.  So much of our ministry success is due to their friendship and generosity.

Our ministry continues to go well.  We consider ourselves greatly blessed to serve the people at NAF El Centro, both military and civilian.  We will be sad to leave.  In April 2013, my window opens to begin discussing with my detailer my next set of orders.  Where will the next step in our adventure take us?  We don't know yet.  We'll let you know just as soon as we do!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Oh, We're Half Way There...Still Living On a Prayer

It's hard to believe that we're half way through our first tour here at NAF El Centro.  Eighteen months down and eighteen more months to go (give or take).  The time has gone by quickly.  It won't be long before we'll be making contact with our detailer to see where our next tour will take us.  

In the meantime, we're still living on a prayer, depending on God's grace each and every day to minister effectively to the sailors and their families we have the privilege of serving.

One of my chief duties during the months of July and August was leading our annual Feds Feed Families food drive on base.  The food drive this year went exceptionally well, raising over 21,000 lbs. of food for our local food pantry, a 400% increase over our 2011 grand total.  NAF El Centro may be one of the smallest bases in the Navy, but we are consistently able to come together in a big way to make a big difference for the families of the Imperial Valley.

November and December were extremely busy months last year.  Anticipating the same schedule this year, Tammy and I planned ahead and decided to take some vacation time in September and October while we had the time to do so.

Our first trip was to Los Angeles in September.  We took seven days to visit many of the exciting attractions the city has to offer, including the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Queen Mary, Disneyland, Hollywood, Universal Studios, the Getty Villa, and the Getty Museum.  An unexpected treat was the opportunity to see the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavor on its final historic flight over LA before going on permanent display at an area museum. On our last day in town, we were very grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with Michael and Ginny Hollar over brunch who we hadn't seen in several years.
Space Shuttle Endeavor
Getty Villa
Universal Studios

Our second trip was in October.  We took ten days to visit family and friends in Indiana and Illinois.  It was a blessing to attend both our college homecoming at Taylor University (our first in more than 15 years) and services at our former church, the Village Church of Lincolnshire. What an encouragement our immediate family and our spiritual family are to us!

This is how much I love the Fall weather in Indiana!!
We were very thankful for the rest and relaxation these trips provided.  Our Religious Ministry Team schedule was already in full gear upon our return.  From the end of October to the end of December we assisting in planning and leading twelve community relations events, working with organizations such as the Imperial Valley Food Bank, Treats for Troops, and Toys for Tots.  Serving in this capacity continues to be one of my favorite duties at a Navy chaplain at NAF El Centro.
Serving side-by-side with the Brits at the Imperial Valley Food Bank in November 2012

NAF El Centro sailors serving in Niland, CA, in November 2012
Several additional highlights took place in September, October, and November as well...
First, Tammy and I participated in several fun events on base, including '70's Night, '80's Night, and our annual Navy Ball, celebrating the birthday of the United States Navy.
'80's Night
Navy Ball 2012
'70's Night
Second, Tammy and I were able to take a day trip to the San Diego Safari Park.  If you ever have the chance to go, we would highly recommend it.  We had a wonderful time!
Third, our Religious Ministry Team had the opportunity to host a special guest speaker, Mr. Nick Vujicic.  As the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the base, it is my responsibility to ensure that sailors receive annual training on this important and relevant topic.  Mr. Vujicic, born without arms and legs, is an internationally known speaker who offers a message of hope and resiliency.  As a Christian evangelist, he preaches to many through his Life Without Limbs ministry(  He also offers non-religious motivational talks through his Attitude is Altitude organization (, encouraging many young men and women in our military, high schools, etc..  To have someone like Mr. Vujicic agree to speak to our sailors was indeed an honor and a privilege.  I am grateful to God for arranging the details for this event.  It made a significant positive impact on the lives our our sailors.  To watch part of Mr. Vujicic's presentation at NAF El Centro, please visit,0,569081.story
Nick Vujicic with NAF El Centro CO, XO, and CDCMC
Finally, Tammy and I attended the Navy Chaplain's Ball in November, honoring the birthday of the United States Navy Chaplain Corps.  Held in San Diego, the distance made it difficult for us to participate, but we are so glad that we did.  Serving in a remote location like NAF El Centro, it is encouraging interact with my colleagues in ministry whenever we get the opportunity to do so.
Tammy continues her significant involvement on base.  Due to the departure of other volunteers, her role at the base thrift store has increased.  And she recently began working as a volunteer leader with the local Girl Scout troop.
In my free time, I continue to be involved with a variety of sports.  We have concluded volleyball and flag football season.  Basketball season begins soon.  While I find my involvement personally enjoyable and fulfilling, sports remains a wonderful way for me to continue to connect with our sailors who might not participate in chapel services or community relations activities.
In an effort to stay as physically fit as possible, I've recently registered for a Super Spartan race ( scheduled for Saturday, 26 January, 2013.  The race is eight miles with 25+ obstacles that include climbing ropes and walls, carrying rocks, barbed wire crawls in the mud, etc.  I have no expectation of finishing first.  Crossing the finish line will be victory enough! 
God bless you one and all.  May you have a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

First Anniversary

Silver bells...Silver bells..It's Christmastime in the...DESERT!!  The 110+ degree heat of the summer in El Centro finally melted away to more comfortable temperatures in November/December.  Having endured Chicago winters for the past 10 years, it was a nice reprieve, especially when it came to putting up Christmas lights on the outside of our home--the first time in our 15 years of marriage.  With no snow, ice, or bitter winds to contend with, and no ladders required, they were up in no time.  Of course, it would have taken less time if I would have hung them correctly the first time!

Tammy and I took some much needed vacation time during Christmas/New Year's to visit family and friends in Indiana and Illinois.  We were delighted to worship again at the Village Church of Lincolnshire.  It was almost exactly one year to the day that I had ended my tenure as the associate pastor there before departing for Officer Development School in January 2011.  It was so good to be back!

The New Year brought with it a new experience--my first FitRep (Fitness Report).  Once a year every sailor is evaluated on his or her job performance, providing a permanent record that directly impacts his or her potential for future promotions.  Thankfully, my first evaluation went very well.

The New Year also brought with it several new ministry developments.  In February, a new Sunday school program was initiated for our Protestant chapel services.  We are so very grateful for a family from the local community who volunteers to come to the base each week to teach a group of about 8-10 children.  They are an answer to prayer!  Second, a Good News Club, an eight week after school outreach program, was started.  Each Wednesday afternoon, children from the base would come to the Community Center for games, singing, and a Bible lesson.  Once again, the assistance of community volunteers was essential to our success, with an average of 15 children in attendance each week. 

In March, much of our focus at NAF El Centro turns to the annual air show.  NAF El Centro has the distinction of being the winter home for the Blue Angels, kicking off their yearly tour right here.  It is as polished and professional event as you will ever see, drawing crowds in excess of 20,000 people.  As the chaplain, I have few responsibilities with the air show except to do my part in keeping everyone sane in the midst of the high tempo/high stress atmosphere...and, of course, pray that nothing goes wrong!

As we marked our first anniversary of ministry here at NAF El Centro, we've been very grateful to see the ministry at the Protestant Chapel continue to grow and develop.   Having approximately 10-15 attenders at our services in April 2011, we were averaging 35-45 attenders in April 2012, with a high of 67 attenders on Easter.  With the departure of the retirees for the summer and the loss of two families who have moved, our attendance has settled to about 20 at the present time.  We trust that the Lord will continue to send new sailors/families to us in the months to come as we enter our second full year of ministry.

I continue to enjoy preaching each week.  One recent preaching series was "Seven Habits for Highly Effective Christians," focusing on one Christian character trait each week, including true love, hard work, generosity, humility, and contentment.  Our current preaching series is "The Big Picture of the Bible".  Each week we study one book of the Bible and highlight its unique themes and message in the context of the canon of Scripture.  Thus far, we've covered Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua.

Our two Protestant Bible studies continue to go well.  An Adult Bible study was already in place upon our arrival.  An adjustment in the meeting time, from 1130-1230 to 0630-0730, has increased attendance slightly, with an average of 6 participants each Thursday morning.  The current study is the That the World May Know video series with Dr. Ray Vanderlaan.  In September/October 2011, Tammy began a new Women's Bible study that meets on Wednesday nights in our home, with 7 women involved. The group is currently taking a break for the summer and looks forward to meeting again in September with a study of 12 Extraordinary Women by John MacArthur.

In May, we were pleased to sponsor the annual NAF El Centro National Day of Prayer breakfast.  The month of June saw two new ministry initiatives, including a special showing of the Courageous movie and a week of Vacation Bible School for our base families.  The Courageous film had more than 30 in attendance.  VBS had 17 children involved, again due to the amazing generosity and support of a local church who provided transportation for our group to their church each day.

One of the most memorable moments this year came at the end of June when three people (father, mother, and son) from the Protestant chapel were baptized.  These were the first baptisms I have performed as a Navy chaplain.  What a blessing it was!

In April, Tammy and I took a weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park, about a two hour drive north of NAF El Centro.  We had a wonderful time enjoying the unique beauty of God's creation found there.  While we were in the area we were excited to have dinner with LT Jason Owens, the chaplain at 29 Palms (Marine Corps), and his family.  I had the privilege of training with Chaplain Owens at both Officer Development School and at Naval Chaplaincy School.  He is a gifted and godly chaplain.  It was a joy to reconnect with him once again.

Physical training continues to be an important part of my weekly schedule.  Monday-Thursday my days start at 0500 with my personal PT regimen that includes either an Insanity or P90X workout.  Saturday is reserved for running at the track or weights in the gym.  This program has allowed me to continue to improve my PT scores.  During our semi-annual PT test in May, I achieved 110 curl ups (2 min.), 91 push ups (2 min.) and 11:07 in the 1.5 mile run.  Staying involved in the various sports on base is still a great way to stay active and to connect with sailors.  We've concluded softball season and are now in the middle of bowling season.  I look forward to the return of basketball and flag football in the months to come.

Lastly, I was very honored to have received my first Navy Achievement Medal in a base ceremony on 06 July.  It was a wonderful surprise.  And while these kinds of awards are necessary and important when being considered for promotion, the greatest reward is still seeking to serve my Savior as I serve our sailors here at NAF El Centro.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Chaps First Summer...and Fall

Just like that my first summer (and fall!) as a Navy chaplain are behind me.  They say "time flies when you're having fun".  That's certainly true here!  The last few months have gone by very quickly...and I've found being a Navy chaplain to be a truly wonderful experience.

The work load the first few weeks at NAF El Centro began at a steady pace...but has turned into an all out sprint!  While every hour is very full, it is also very fulfilling.  Most of my time is divided into three categories--the chapel, COMRELs, and counseling.

Our small Protestant congregation has continued to grow steadily since our arrival.  We're working hard in developing a children's Sunday School that will serve our our families well.  We still have a long way to go, but we're moving in the right direction.  Our numbers nearly doubled over the past two months as the retirees have returned to base for the winter.  They are a delightful group and have been incredibly supportive of the ministry here.  We'll hate to see them leave come March/April, but will anticipate their return next year.

This summer I preached a series on the Psalms entitled "Tuning Our Hearts Toward God".  I'm currently preaching a series called "Christian Urban Legends," discussing the numerous myths that Christians sometimes believe.  Based off of the book 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe by Larry Osborne, we've discussed "Faith Fixes Everything," "Forgiving Means Forgetting," "Good Things Happen to Good/Godly People," "Everything Happens for a Reason," etc.  We'll begin a new series in the book of Luke come December.

In military lingo, a "COMREL" is a community relations event.  The Navy's motto is "A Global Force for Good" and we want to live up to that vision right here at NAF El Centro as we engage sailors in opportunities to serve our community.  My community/missions experience at VCL has certainly prepared me well for this role.  Many of our service hours are spent in support of the Imperial Valley Food Bank as we raise food donations, sort donations in the wharehouse, and deliver food to needy families.  We are also privileged to serve Seeley Elementary School through reading programs and physical labor for various projects and events throughout the year. Other opportunities have included support of the Treats for Troops program in October and serving Thanksgiving meals in November.

Counseling is ovbiously an import duty as a chaplain.  Whatever the issue might be, it is a privilege to be a listening ear and caring support for our sailors.

This first tour in my Navy chaplain career has offered a series of "firsts" for me--first Memorial Day, first Fourth of July, first Veteran's Day, etc.  Each holiday is all the more special when wearing our nation's uniform.  And the opportunity to attend and participate in local activities and events as a chaplain is a great honor.  I've also had the blessing of officiating my first wedding as a chaplain and attending my first Navy ball!

When not at work, Tammy and I have made every effort to get to know the area and visit as many sites as we can in and around the San Diego area.  We've been able to go to the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, San Diego Botanical Gardens, Sonny Bono Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge, SeaWorld, etc.  We've had such a great time together and hope to do more in the months to come.

I turned 40 years old this month.  Among other things, this new age bracket means I need to keep as physically fit as possible.  Toward this end my mornings begin at 0500 with Insanity.  I've recently completed it for the second time and still loving it.  This routine prepared me well for our PRT this month, netting 100 curl ups (2 min.), 85 push ups (2 min.) and 11:34 in the 1.5 mile run.  Physical activity is also available through the various sports activities on base, including softball, basketball, and flag football.  These sports are just as fun as they used to be--but the recovery time is much, much longer. :)

This Thanksgiving season, I would like to thank everyone for their prayers and support.  This ministry would hardly seem possible without the encouragement of all of our family and friends.  I praise God for you all!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

El Centro or Bust!

I officially became a Navy chaplain on March 30, 2011.

After nine months of the application process and then another twelve weeks of training, I was no longer a civilian pastor.  I was a chaplain in the United States Navy!  My hopes, hard work, planning, and prayers had brought me to graduation.

It was one of the happiest and proudest days of my life and I was so glad that Tammy could be there to share it with me.  But after the ceremony, there was little time for reflection or relaxation.  In a few hours we were on a flight back to Chicago where we spent the next few days packing our remaining belongings (that hadn't been picked up by the movers already) and saying goodbye to friends.  Our final Sunday at Village Church of Lincolnshire was very special.  The support and encouragement of our church family has meant so much to the both of us.  Seeing them one last time was something I wouldn't miss.

After church, we jumped in the car to begin the 1900 mile trek to El Centro, CA.  Our journey was spectacularly uneventful as we made our way cross country passing through St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Phoenix.  Time was of the essence so no sightseeing this time, but we were able to stop and see friends--Caiti Nagy, Bob Hartman, and Bryce and Anita Morgan along the way.

While I didn't know exactly what to expect upon my arrival at NAF El Centro, I need not have worried.  Tammy and I were warmly welcomed by the command staff, base personnel, neighbors, and area pastors.  I am grateful to several individuals who have helped us get off to a good start.  We have been blessed by their wisdom, advice, and encouragement.


Ministry opportunities are plentiful.  Each week is filled with counseling sessions, staff meetings, sermon preparation/worship planning, workplace visits, and more.  Thus far, I've been asked to give the invocation at the monthly Navy League dinner and at the dedication of a new base fire engine.  I was also asked to share a few words and pray and the funeral of local veteran.  There will be many more invocation invites as Memorial Day observances are just around the corner.  Next week I will be visiting the local food bank and helping to deliver food to a nearby community.  With an unemployment rate of nearly 30%, the needs in the area are significant.

Our first chapel event since my arrival was a prayer breakfast on the National Day of Prayer.  Although we didn't have much time to plan and publicize, we had 27 adults and 4 children in attendance!

The chapel ministry is going well.  I plan, prepare, and facilitate the Protestant service each Sunday.  Attendance is small, but the possibility of growth is big as we consider the start of a children's ministry and a worship team.  The chapel facilities are very good, but we're looking for some improvements there as well.

My first preaching series as the base chaplain is "Geography of the Soul: Our Spiritual Journey with God".  In this series, we're "visiting" key locations in the Bible where God taught His people important spiritual lessons.  We're discovering that God is still taking His people to these same locations today--if not always physically then spiritually.  Our topics thus far have been "The Jordan River--A Barrier to Blessing," "The Wilderness--A Place of Testing," and "The Valley of Elah--Facing the Giants".

Our housing is on base and is more than adequate.  We have three bedrooms, an enclosed patio, and a very large kitchen.  All of our belongings are moved in and almost completely unpacked.  It not only looks like, but it's beginning to feel like home as well. :)

Although I technically didn't have to participate, I've already completed my first official PRT since my arrival at NAF El Centro.  I was very pleased with 100 sit ups, 79 push ups, and the 1.5 mile run in 11:27.  I have been working hard to keep my physical conditioning at its best.  I'm out of bed at 0500 four times per week to continue the workouts that the gunnery sergeant had us doing at chaplain school.  Tammy is even joining me three times per week!

While the El Centro community is small (population 35,000), we have no complaints.  With a mall, a Wal-mart, Target, Lowe's, Home Depot, etc. we can make most of our needed purchases nearby.  What we miss most?  I'm guessing Chipotle.  However, we're trying some new cuisine in the meantime.  Eating at Pollo Loco isn't as "crazy" as it sounds.  And if that fails, a trip to Starbuck's seems to do the trick!  Anything that we can't find in El Centro, we can likely find in Yuma, AZ, about an hour away.

Tammy and I will be traveling to San Diego next month.  We have a friend's wedding that we will attend.  Soon afterwards the regional chaplain will be bringing us out to meet some of the other chaplains in the area and we'll stay to attend the EFCA National Conference.

More details in the weeks to come...