Sunday, February 21, 2010

Padre Mark Christian - Thought for the Day

Camp Bastion Memorial to all those who have fallen in Helmand Province

Thought For The Day by Padre Mark Christian, Task Force Helmand Senior Chaplain
Radio 4, Today Programme Thursday 18 Feb 2010

Last night here in Lashkar Gah, in the tent that is our church, we had a simple Holy Communion service, drawing crosses of ash on our foreheads and saying the traditional words from the Ash Wednesday service which marks the beginning of Lent ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’.

I am not sure if you could say there's ever a good time to come out on military operations, but the season of Lent reflects the atmosphere here better than any other church season. The men and women serving here live a very simple and basic existence.

All the distractions and many of the comforts of home are missing. Everybody works relentlessly, but in the times you do have to yourself, living this life helps you focus on what is important - family and loved ones at home of course, but also the people around you, who serve with you, and upon whom you depend – sometimes to keep you alive.

At the heart of the Lent theme is sacrifice. A quality that's paramount to any soldier, but especially at a time like this, during a major operation. The concept of sacrifice is so important to the army that it appears as ‘selfless commitment’ in our six core values.

Every day, soldiers in Helmand put themselves in harms way for the sake of the security of our nation and to bring peace to Afghanistan:

The young rifleman who knows that he will be attacked almost every time he leaves his patrol base.

Every soldier, who in the face of the enemy understands that he is expected to show 'courageous restraint' – not to open fire if there is any chance of civilians being killed, even if this puts him in greater danger.

The courage, the fear, the sacrifice, the loss of friends and the hard won successes, amongst other things, make a tour of duty in Afghanistan an emotionally intensive 6 months. It changes everyone who serves here – not necessarily in the negative ways that you'll hear on the news or read in the papers, but it deepens our understanding of life because everyday in one way or another we reflect on, and are challenged by, issues of morality, mortality, faith and human relationships.

On my recent leave I visited some patients at Selly Oak hospital. I was talking to one recently injured soldier for over an hour. He was talking about his friends – the ones who had died and the ones he had fought with. About how scared he was, but how he knew he had to go on.

At the end of the conversation I noticed that he was holding one of the brigade dog tags that his chaplain had given him. He read from the verse of scripture that is on the back of the tag from Joshua chapter 1 verse 9 – ‘I will be strong and courageous. I will not be terrified or discouraged; for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go’. He looked at me and said “do you think I have been strong and courageous padre?

I think you can guess how I answered him.

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