The Gulf War–what images do those words bring to mind?
SCUD missiles exploding? Iraqi soldiers surrendering? Welcome-home parades?
How about thousands of American soldiers kneeling in prayer?
That’s one you missed? Small wonder. The story was almost completely passed over by television. It was pieced together from letters sent home by chaplains serving in the Gulf.
Jeff Houston, a minister from Missouri, wrote that he was holding four worship services every day–four a day! Each service averaged more than 160. Daily, there were new professions of faith.
“I have discovered that there really are `springs in the desert’,” Jeff wrote home. “The men are so thirsty for the water of life…This is more like a revival than a war.”
Another chaplain wrote that many nights a soldier would lie awake talking with a buddy in the next cot about what would happen if he was shot. Is that the end? Is there an afterlife? Without fail, the next day five or six guys would drop by the chaplain’s tent to ask him questions about life, death, and God.
Col. Dave Peterson, chief of all the Gulf chaplains, said, “In 25 years in the Army I have never seen as much spirituality.”
This is not to say the ministers had an easy job of it. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic nation, and soldiers were forbidden to wear crosses in public. Chaplains were forbidden to carry out missionary activities, as they did in Europe during World War II and in Vietnam.
In some places, chaplains were called “morale counsellors,” and worship services were dubbed “morale meetings.”
In spite of these restrictions, the Bible was the most widely circulated publication among the troops. Thousands of Bibles with desert camouflage covers were distributed.
Why was there such a great spiritual hunger among the soldiers?
C.S. Lewis suggests an answer in his popular book The Screwtape Letters, a fantasy based on a correspondence between two devils. In the story, war breaks out and the younger devil is delighted. He knows that war can bring out the worst in people–cruelty, cowardice, savagery.
But the older devil is wiser. He knows war can also bring out the best in people. Confronted with the threat of death, many people wonder for the first time about life. They ask what things are truly worth living for.
For many soldiers, the Gulf War was just such a time. Living under stress and uncertainty, facing danger and death, soldiers sensed their need for God.
It’s a pity it takes something like a war for this to happen. When things are going well in life, we pay a courtesy call on God once a week and then go our own way. It’s only when the bombs are falling that we get serious about God.
Yet in reality each of us faces the possibility of death at any moment. Maybe we don’t have SCUD missiles landing in our back yard, but more people die from car accidents every year than ever died in a war. More than 24,000 people are murdered each year in America. And cancer is no respecter of age or status.
If we honestly consider how fragile life really is, each of us has reason enough to get serious about God.
And then each of us will identify with the thousands of soldiers who knelt in tents in the desert sand and dedicated their lives to the Living God.