By David Huxsoll
Thanks to the work of a deployed Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod chaplain and the generosity of dozens of LCMS members and congregations, thousands of Synod worship and study resources are now in the hands of United States military personnel serving in combat zones throughout the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
Copies of Luther’s Small Catechism have been eagerly received by deployed military service members and shipments of the catechism and Lutheran Service Book have been sent to military chapels throughout the region.
The collaborative effort began modestly, early this year, when Air Force Chaplain (Maj.) Jim Buckman deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and found himself in need of some resources to support his ministry to deployed airmen.
“We are very limited in the amount of what we can bring with us [when deploying],” Buckman explained.
He said the few duffel bags he was authorized to bring along could only accommodate his military uniforms and related gear, his vestments, a computer and a few theological books.
“There was not a lot of extra room for other materials,” said the chaplain.
Buckman is a member of the New Jersey Air National Guard, and in his civilian life he is a missionary with the LCMS New Jersey District, helping congregations plant new worshiping communities. His ministry is network-supported, and one of his network supporters, Julia Sabella, asked how she might be able to help during his deployment. Buckman asked her to send some hard-bound editions of Luther’s Small Catechism, which he used with deployed airmen who came to him for counseling.
He found that the catechisms really resonated with airmen. The clear, accessible language and explanations were popular and widely-embraced by almost everyone who read them, according to Buckman.
Giving away catechisms
“Initially, I was just looking for a good resource for counseling and a reference for Bible study,” he said. “But then I just started giving them away.”
Buckman handed them out while explaining that the catechism is a book on the basics of the Christian faith, with 300 questions and a thousand quotations from Scripture to answer those questions. Often, he would ask the service members if they were parents, and if so, he would provide copies for them to give to their children, as well. Soon he was going through boxes of catechisms. As more and more arrived, chaplains based at other locations in the region found out about them and asked if they could have some for their chapels.
“I was a little concerned at first that I would run out,” he said with a laugh.
That wasn’t the case. Word of this effort spread quickly through newsletter updates he sent to his network supporters, as well as by word-of-mouth. Churches and individual members stateside began sending more catechisms to Buckman to provide to deployed service members.
When he received authorization to start a new Protestant liturgical service on base, the project expanded to include not only catechisms, but also editions of Lutheran Service Book.
“In my 30 years in the military, I haven’t seen a single liturgical Protestant hymnal in any chapel,” Buckman explained, “and it’s undeniable that there’s liturgy in our hymnal. That’s what convinced our leadership to allow its use for the worship services.”
The effort to provide the catechism and LSB was further assisted through the efforts of Deaconess Carolyn Brinkley, coordinator for the military project at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, through Nancy Rowley of the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces, and through Navy Chaplain (Cmdr.) Mike Moreno of the Synod’s Operation Barnabas ministry to military members.
After they found out about the need for these resources, they took it on as a mission of their own and helped publicize the project to congregations and individual members.
“When the opportunity first presented itself it seemed wonderful, but also overwhelming,” Brinkley explained. “So I began by telling people on campus — students, staff and professors.”
Their support led to an announcement on the seminary’s Facebook page.
‘So many comments’
“This generated so many comments and inquiries that I was encouraged to post my first-ever event on my own Facebook page,” said Brinkley.
The Facebook event was shared many times and led to an interview on KFUO Radio. Orders were placed directly with Concordia Publishing House, and pastors and congregations from across the country called and emailed with funds allocated for copies of LSB and catechisms. Some congregations also purchased and donated the “Concordia Organist,” a 31 compact-disc set of organ accompaniments for the hymns and liturgies.
Soon boxes of Luther’s Small Catechism were arriving in Buckman’s office on a daily basis.
“Our Lutheran members have been such a blessing to the armed forces,” said Moreno. “They support chaplains who are in the mission field and support Operation Barnabas, which gives people at the congregational level the opportunity to get involved. When those two worlds come together, wonderful things happen.”
Every day, Buckman handed out Catechisms as he visited work areas and met with airmen.
“When they receive a wrapped, hard-bound edition of Luther’s Small Catechism, they know that they are getting something attractive that they want to keep and pass on to their children,” Buckman said.
“Church members back in the States got very excited about being able to do this,” he said.
He related a story about one of the first sets of donated service books to arrive. It was from a retired LCMS pastor in Texas and his wife who donated three of them. “They inscribed inside that the donation was in honor of their son, who served in Afghanistan and came home safely.”
Much like the catechisms, however, LSB proved popular with chaplains of all stripes. The same day that those three copies of Lutheran Service Book arrived, Buckman was visited by a non-LCMS Army chaplain who was passing through the base on his way to another location in the region. The Army chaplain told Buckman that his chapel was a little short on resources and was lacking in hymnals. Buckman showed him the first set of service books that had just arrived.
“I went through the book and showed him the liturgy. He liked it and asked me if he could have them. These were the first hymnals I received, and I wasn’t too keen on seeing them leave,” Buckman said. “I silently prayed about it, and I just had a peace within my heart about giving this chaplain these hymnals.”
Hymnals keep arriving
A set of 35 hymnals, including the three donated from the retired pastor from Texas, were shipped to his base. Shortly thereafter, more and more service books arrived, enough to supply not only Victory Chapel at Al Udeid Air Base, but also seven other chapels in Afghanistan, Qatar and throughout the region. Other chaplains in the region saw the value in this because they provide a unique resource for worship. Catechisms were shipped to all of these locations, as well.
“What I find is that when God opens up a door for ministry, you don’t need to understand how it’s all going to work out. You just need to get going and walk through and trust him a little bit,” Buckman said. “You can’t out-give God. You give away His gift, and He just gives you more to give away.”
Throughout his deployment, Buckman received and distributed more than 1,000 copies of Luther’s Small Catechism, and more than 700 copies of LSB. On several occasions, on the same day Buckman received requests for both resources from other chapels in the region, he also would receive word from pastors back home that new shipments were on their way to meet the need.
“It’s amazing to see how God orchestrates things and to be able to watch it happen,” he said.
The hymnals were used in the weekly Protestant liturgical service, which, thanks to a donation of The Concordia Organist CD set, included the full organ accompaniment for Divine Service, Setting One, and music for all of the hymns. The service book was also used in the Protestant traditional service led by Buckman. One Sunday, the LSB Order of Holy Baptism was used when an airmen was baptized.
The catechisms also were used as a resource in a weekly Bible study called “Holy Smokes.”
Smoking with catechisms
“We were reading the catechism and smoking cigars,” Buckman explained. “And nine-tenths of the people there were not LCMS.”
The catechisms’ reach extended beyond the military members serving in the region. One deployed non-commissioned officer who worked in the chapel with Buckman was given catechisms that she provided to her children on returning home. Her mother-in-law is a pastor’s wife who works with children in a downtrodden area, and when she found out about the catechisms, she asked if she could have some for her own ministry. “There are many people that come to Christ and still don’t understand and still have questions,” she said. “That book helps out tremendously.”
“Just witness Chaplain James Buckman,” Moreno said. “He put out the word for congregations to send both Small Catechisms and Lutheran Service Books, and the response was staggering. He and his ministry team received nearly two thousand resources to serve not only the service members in country, but also to share with their families back home. The military is very concerned with strengthening families, and what an opportunity for God’s Word to do just that.”
“I have had the privilege of being a deaconess in providing body and soul care to many deployed LCMS chaplains, their families and also military personnel,” Brinkley said. “But I must say that gathering Lutheran Service Books and Luther’s Small Catechisms for Buckman has been an exceptionally rewarding experience in bringing the mercy of Christ to courageous military personnel who defend our freedoms far from home. Seeing chapel doors on these bases open, combined with the abundant and enthusiastic response of our LCMS people, was clear, visible evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit.”
This experience has convinced Buckman that Missouri Synod Lutherans need to take a fresh look at how the church views its resources, such as Luther’s Small Catechism. “We need to stop thinking about this resource as something that only we use,” the chaplain said. “People want something solid in unstable times. They want to get deeper into God’s Word, and they want something that quotes from scripture. The catechism does that. Our church body should really think about how we can get these resources into chapels in the States and abroad.”
Reflecting on his experience, Buckman was reminded of the parable of the farmer scattering the seeds (Matt. 13: 3-9).
Obligation to scatter
“The image is not one of a farmer carefully and delicately planting each seed,” Buckman said. “It’s a scattering, and we want to be scattering this resource, not holding it in our granary or carefully giving it away one at a time. The Holy Spirit works through the Word in people’s hearts, and that’s what this is. It’s the Word set to music in the LSB, and it’s the Word in response to questions in the catechism. The best thing we can do is to put this into the hands of as many people as possible. We have an obligation to do that.”
“It was a great pleasure and privilege to direct congregations and individuals to send LSBs and catechisms to Buckman to be distributed to the men and women he serves,” Rowley said, reflecting on the effort.
Moreno added, “We pray God’s blessings that we may continue to partner congregations with chaplains so that they can share the love of Christ with our military and their families.”
David Huxsoll is an Air Force lieutenant colonel and a member of an LCMS congregation; he was deployed to Al Udeid Air Base with Chaplain (Maj.) Jim Buckman.
Posted Aug. 29, 2014