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...