As I walked from jail cell to jail cell, speaking with young men who still consider themselves to be Marines, I pondered: How did I get here? Just months before, I had been leading a team against feared cartel leaders who had been indicted by our government. Now I found myself being escorted by a Marine MP in a special housing unit and chapel where I am expected to speak words of encouragement, bring the hope of the gospel, and provide spiritual guidance to incarcerated men who still quickly react to the words Semper Fidelis.
The process to become a lay worship and Bible study leader at a Marine brig started as I was nearing retirement from public service. I had spent 24 years as a criminal investigator with the U.S. Marshals Service, following eight years in the enlisted corps of the U.S. Air Force. A few years after entering the military at age 17, I came to faith in Jesus. During the ensuing years, my wife and I raised three of our own children, one of our nephews, homeschooled our children, attended college, and caravanned around the country to different posts of duty.
Now I sensed a tug on my heart to serve in full-time ministry. I shared that desire with my parish pastor and began to research how I could serve God as a lay person. A pastor friend encouraged me to look into WELS Chaplaincy. I applied and was accepted into the Chaplaincy Certification Program.
One of the courses required an internship in a chaplaincy setting. A Marine officer friend (and fellow communicant) introduced me to the Navy chaplain at the Camp Pendleton Brig. The chaplain needs to ensure that those approved as worship leaders are either ordained or can obtain proper licensure. WELS Military Services certified me as a Distinctive Religious Group Leader, approving me to conduct liturgical services at the base brig and lead Bible studies one night per week.
Although our warriors are well trained to defend our nation, many are broken, spiritually blind, and still need Jesus. Going to them where they are can be daunting, due to security training and awareness, background investigations, waiting to enter the brig, unfamiliar smells and sounds, high or low lighting, and tension that you can sense. One must also remember that proselytizing is neither approved by the military nor acceptable for civilian volunteers. But when all these obstacles are surmounted, I have the privilege of opening the Bible and speaking the wonderful words of God to agnostics, atheists, druids, Protestants, and even other Lutherans.
It is amazing to watch God work in our lives when we go and do his will. I have seen how God opens some doors and closes others to get us where he wants us. I have concluded that no matter where God puts us, he expects us to be faithful to him and his Word. The gospel is still the power of God for salvation—even in the brig.
Tom Nunley is a member at Christ the Vine, Temecula, Calif.
Learn more about the Chaplaincy Certification Program at wels.net/chaplains.
Chaplaincy Certification online classes in Fall 2020
The following online classes will be offered through Martin Luther College during the Fall semester, August 24 to December 18. Go to: mlc-wels.edu and click on “Academics,” then “Continuing Education.”
THE9521 – A Scriptural Approach to Addiction Counseling – 3 credits
A study of addictions, especially substance abuse and pornography, and the ways Christians try to help through law/gospel counseling and referral.
THE9525 – Geriatric and Care Facility Ministry – 3 credits
A team-oriented approach to serve the aging and residents in care facilities. Provides knowledge and skills for congregation members to offer spiritual care for the homebound and institutionalized.
THE9534 – Grounded in Scripture – 3 credits
An introduction to theology, focusing on scriptural teachings of special importance to chaplaincy ministry.
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