No-one said it would be easy

A moving and very powerful final post from Padre Robin Richardson, attached to 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) as he concludes his 6-month tour of Afghanistan.

Padre Robin Richardson

Padre Robin Richardson

And so I come to my last blog entry. So much has happened over the last six and a half months and as I sit, now at Camp Bastion and try to sum things up it is difficult to know where to start or what to include. As a Chaplain my role is to as best as I can, see, observe, witness, understand, value and retell, story. The story of individual soldiers and officers and what they have achieved, the story of the communities they have sought to serve, the story of a nation in transition, and the story of God and how His presence, sometimes obvious, sometimes clouded, sometimes seemingly absent threads its way through things.

I am trying to piece it together, but at the moment, in the brightness and rawness of events that have yet to settle into a single narrative, I think it is best that I simply state what I have seen, what I have heard, what I have felt, what I have known.

I have seen the effect that security can make to a community, and the tentative steps that people dare take when less threatened. Village elders feeling empowered enough to confront the insurgent leadership, parents wanting to send their children to new schools and farmers pointing out to ISAF troops where IEDs that endanger the whole community are laid. And it is upon these building blocks that I think I have seen a genuine peace starting to establish itself. The security has not been the answer, it has just given the people the chance to ask the question.

I have heard young men in a foreign land speak tenderly of loved ones they miss, and of battles they have won, of people they have helped and of friends they have lost. I shall never forget the sound of rain-sodden sleeves forcing a final salute as the coffin of a friend is carried shoulder high through silent ranks to return home. And I have heard the crash and silence of the closing cargo door of the plane as we hold a solemn moment before returning to duty, to the job we have been tasked to do, to the freedom the fallen sought to gift. It is what they would have wanted. It is what they would have done, and we will never forget Jack and Tom, Lewis and Conrad.

And yet the strange counterpoint to this has been the sound of children’s laughter getting louder and freer and gunfire becoming more distant as those who would intimidate are forced from the centre, to the sidelines of life in Nad Ali North. And I have heard  exasperation and hope in equal measure as democracy is learned within the imperfections that freedom demands; but no-one said it would be easy, and the cost has been high, in every sense.

I have felt the ache of missing my family, my friends and the freedoms of life at home; but I’ve known also the warmth of fraternity, of being part a group so close, so committed to one another that the improbable seems all at once, possible; and the lurking fear of being alone that tracks so many lives within western culture is kept far, far away from eight in a tent in Helmand. I’ve felt great pride and optimism when I have seen young people given something to do, a reason to do it, and the sense they are about a higher purpose, shine like the sun and dedicate themselves to the task with enthusiasm, assurance, professionalism and the knowledge that there is hope, even if cynics would rather scoff from afar.

I have known tiredness, and I’ve known good sleep, sadness and hilarity, disappointment and gratefulness but in all and through all I’ve known the presence of God, the hope of faith and the power of prayer. Yes, I have seen man’s inhumanity towards man and I’ve heard it sold in religious, philosophical and intellectual terms; but I know impious hate will use any means to twist the minds of those it seeks to control. For I have known in far greater measure the selfless actions of people of different faiths and of none, I have heard words of understanding and grace when I’ve met and eaten with mullahs and soldiers and farmers and police. And though there have been many things on which there are differences of opinion and ideology, I have felt and I have seen in concrete terms, that away from insipid romanticism and tabloid headlines, the truth that states, the hope that underscores, the trust that believes, and my faith proclaims; that in the end, when all is said and done, and all of history is revealed, selfless love and the giving of ones all for another, wins, full stop.

18 thoughts on “No-one said it would be easy

  1. What a wonderful well written piece 🙂 , god bless you and all the others that dedicate their lives to keeping us safe . Xx

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  2. “that in the end, when all is said and done, and all of history is revealed, selfless love and the giving of ones all for another, wins, full stop”. What an amazing line.
    Padre Richardson’s blogs always bring a tear to my eye, but this one sums up the hope, courage and faith in what we are achieving in Afghanistan.

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  3. Thank you Padre – for watching over my son and those of the people I have become firm friends with during this last 6 months. You might not have always been in the pb or their Fob but they knew that in their time of need you were there – solid and firm and sometimes it was not what you said, but what you and they didn’t have to say.
    They might not have shred your faith always but they benefitted from the wisdom it has given you.
    thank you as well for taking the time to be our link with the progress of their role – away from the comments of those who condemn their work and from those who do not understand why our lads continue to face the horrors of their job for others to have freedom.

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  4. Thank you for your thoughts and words, I also have been moved to tears by them and my prayers will continue for those involved in the operations. Safe journey home and God be with you now and forever.

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  5. I also thank you for caring for my son and all his comrades over the last 6 months,i too have enjoyed reading your blogs.It has been very hard back home for us families but i have had great comfort from knowing that there was some one with compassion like yourself with our boys.My son met you on a few occasions and describes you as ‘sound’.May you continue to do a very special job 🙂

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  6. Thank you, Padre. My son returned home with C Coy 3 Para on Saturday night and on Sunday I told him how moved I have been by your blogs and how I have copied the links into my facebook page so that others could draw comfort from your moving and inspiring accounts. He told me that you “are a sound bloke” (no greater compliment to be got from a Paratrooper) and that he met with you whilst he was delivering two detainees top Bastion a couple or three weeks ago. I thank you for being there with them, I thank you for keeping the families at home in the loop and I thank you for reminding us all that God is with our sons. I offer a prayer for the safety of the lads from 2 Para who are still out there and who will be there for some little while yet.

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  7. my son went out a boy and came back a man with tears of joy and of sorrow of those who didnt we hope they made a difference to 3 para i salute you to god i thank you for my sons safe return.

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  8. what love,hope and sheer determination for what we believe in, that of PEACE, gives fullfillment to mind body and soul.You have summed all this up in your tribute to your services Gods love is never ending and shows through the work you all do a big THANKYOU to everyone you are in my prayers

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  9. Thank you for a most moving and fascinating series of blogs, especially this latest.

    God bless.

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  10. We can never show every last one of the men and women, working so hard for our safety, our gratitude. I pray for the safe return for you all and i say a prayer for the fallen. You make us a proud nation. Bless you all

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  11. Very moving words. The lads/lasses have my respect, never forgotten, never taken for granted. God bless you all.

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  12. Thank you, Rob, for a moving testimony. May God continue to use you and share your faith with those lads in 3Para. Let us know when you go on tour again, so that we can pray with you and for you. Stuart

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