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Serving in Harm's Way

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | September 19, 2009

"Never forget that the purpose for which a man lives is the improvement of the man himself, so that he may go out of this world having, in his great sphere or small one, done some little good for his fellow creatures and labored a little to diminish the sin and sorrow in the world."
William E. Gladstone

I remember meeting Kevin for the first time. We were standing just outside Solomon's Porch, the place where for years we have welcomed new students to our campus. It was the end of the day and he had just arrived. He spoke of his recent military discharge and new quest to earn a degree. I was struck by his sincerity and rough hewn style. 

Just a few weeks ago that first encounter with new students played itself out again. It always does at this time of the year. Their bright faces with optimistic eyes camouflage their familiar pasts in Nebraska and Michigan and Maine and even Romania for their unfamiliar futures which will take them all over the world. 

All of that was reflected on Kevin's face when I first saw him. And over the next four years his life was transformed. He devoured his classes and with each semester he kept growing. 

Then he met Jenny, the love of his life. As I remember his journey, I don't think I could say with certainty if it was college or Jenny which most changed Kevin. I think it was Jenny. As his public leadership gifts developed, Jenny provided that unusual internal equilibrium. 

During those college years Kevin was drawn toward the military chaplaincy. He understood the unique challenges for anyone in the military and his burden to help young soldiers became the passion of his life. He graduated from VFCC in 2002 and before long he was a student in seminary. 

The path to the military chaplaincy is not easy. It requires a graduate degree, ministry experience, and an arduous application process but Kevin navigated those years with Jenny at his side. Along the way came three sons: James, Brian and Caleb. 

Soldiers serve at the wishes of their commanders and before long Kevin was deployed to Afghanistan. He became the spiritual leader of 800 soldiers who were stationed in five outposts. He has already conducted three funerals. 

A couple of weeks ago I learned this amazing story. While visiting one of those outposts, his soldiers were engaged in four major fire fights. During one of those attacks, one of his soldiers was shot in the back, rupturing his camelback of water. The round was stopped by his back armor plate which saved his life. 

You can only imagine the personal and pastoral care of a chaplain to a young soldier after a close call like that. That young man made life commitments which will change him forever. 

After hearing that story I tried to get an email address so I could reconnect with Kevin. To my surprise, I learned he had just returned from Afghanistan the day before and he was with his family for two weeks. He had not seen them for seven months. You cannot imagine my joy and pride as I spoke with him and later Jenny for about an hour. I assured them of our love and prayer support especially when he returns for the final five months of his mission. 

Acts of service always inspire us. But acts of service in harm's way inspire us even more. When I think of our current students I often quote this prayer, "Lord, help them to build foundations which will be strong enough to handle that which eventually will be placed upon them." 

As Marian Wright Edelman said, "A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back - but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you." 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu