The Reverend Benjamin Abeledo, the Task Force Helmand Senior Chaplain based in Lashkar Gah, talks about the very special parish which is Afghanistan.
As I write this article from Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 12, I have been here for almost eight weeks. The ten chaplains from 4th Mechanized Brigade are currently deployed and serving in their respective locations. Some are based in Camp Bastion and Lashkar Gah whilst other are bedded in with their units in their forward operating bases (FOBs). Whatever the location, chaplaincy doesn’t change in this sparse and hot environment. You just have to adapt and become flexible, mobile and very proactive in how you deliver your ministry to the troops.
The opportunities for the Padre during a campaign to reflect God’s presence heralds the best of times for the Christian chaplain. It is during a campaign that many souls are awakened from sleep. One receives that privilege of being an instrument clearly used by God in another person’s life. It is here that you feel truly a love of your soldiers, and that sense that you are indeed a privileged part of a band of brothers. Living within this community, in conditions that may be as luxurious as a camp with a coffee shop, cookhouse, air-conditioning and a designated church, or what amounts to little more than a few tents surrounded by fortification and makeshift distractions, these people need you, and you need them. You are the friendly face willing to give them your time; you are the person who shows a genuine care; you have their trust and confidence; you facilitate their expressions of faith corporately and individually; you are the voice that represents their welfare. You need them because they are your companions, friends, protection, and the source of needed humour, reflection and humility. This is a unique parish of men and women who would, if necessary, die for you and that makes them a very special parish indeed.
This kind of relationship is crucial, especially in tough times. Times when your sense of your own mortality becomes heightened; times when the news of injuries and deaths are all too frequent and one becomes falls prey to one’s own anxieties and fears. At the same time, this kind of experience is balanced by a quiet sense of hope and faith in each other and God. This is not time to be selfish or self-seeking; on the contrary it is a time to be vulnerable, honest and courageous. As chaplains serving our troops, and experiencing their lives, we are very proud to be part of their journey. A journey of self discovery and character making. One thing is for sure, a tour of Afghanistan will either make you or break you; thankfully for most of our troops it is the making of a bunch of wonderful young men and women, who in serving their country are becoming channels of peace, and remarkable individuals of which our country should be very proud. I am.