I’m not a fan of my smartphone. I hate always being connected. There was a time when a man could be alone. Not anymore. But they are part of life in the 21st Century and though I struggle to not let it take up too much of my time, I’m learning to live with it. The times I am thankful for my smartphone are when I get text messages from Marines and Sailors like this:

Good morning sir,
I was there at service yesterday and was
wondering if I could get a ride this Friday
to the Bible study, yesterday was the first
time I’ve been to church in 9 months and I
would just like to thank you for obeying
God and coming to North Carolina

I met this young Sailor at Camp Johnson Chapel. During my sermon I was talking about how no matter where you find yourself, serve God. I told the story about how Patty and I were not looking to come to North Carolina. We were happy at our church in Maryland. But God had different plans. Following Him here showed us that all we had ever experienced had prepared us for this ministry.
Text Messages like this make up for how much I hate constant connection. I am grateful for this means of communication, limited as it is. It reminds me (constantly!) that God sent us here to pour our lives into the lives of young service members. Meeting fresh Marines and Sailors, at Camp Johnson for their training, gives us opportunities we could have never imagined. As the Chapel ministry at Camp Johnson grows, we expect to meet even more Marines and Sailors like this.

Later that same week I received this message from a Marine who has been attending our Center for over 3 ½ years:

With me officially not being a Marine as of
this morning I look back at the last three years
and think of things that have shaped me and
grown me and your ministry has done that.
I can’t thank you and Patty enough for
everything you both have done for me and
helped me walk through. I’m grateful for you
and the way God is using the Center to help
military members grow in Christ.
Thank you for everything!

Our ministry has changed since we arrived in Jacksonville in January 2016. When we got here the Center was still ran like it was in Aberdeen from 1952 to 2008. A good model, but past its prime. The move to a permanent party base meant a change in ministry focus was needed, and patty and I saw that immediately. Though Evangelism is still a central focus of our ministry, we saw that the years we would have with these Marines and Sailors represented a golden opportunity to impact the next generation of Christian leaders.

I made the decision to focus our time in the Word on Doctrine and Theology. Right now we are working our way through Romans on Friday nights for the second time since 2016 (Our cadre of Marines changes regularly, so I can go back to books and lessons without repeating myself). We just started studying Daniel verse by verse on Tuesday nights. It should take us about 28 weeks. Giving these young men and women a firm foundation in Biblical Doctrine is crucial. As they come to Patty and I for counseling, we are always pointing them back to what they have learned already, reminding them that they are to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22)

It starts by meeting new Marines and Sailors. It ends when they leave, prepared for the challenges of life by their training in the Word.

First contact to last contact. Maybe I don’t mind my cell phone after all.

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