Blog - Supporting Believers
Connecting with Other Believers on PurposeMonday, March 23, 2009
Some in the military, intimidated by their surroundings, blend in as closet believers. The atmosphere oozes with worldly pride over issues like strength, speed, shooting skill and ability to handle stress. Pornography is blatant. A friend of mine, Ryan, deployed twice in Iraq, told me, “Most new Christians remain quiet about their faith.”
Following Ryan's recent return to the States, he continues to meet with and encourage some of the military men he served overseas. I asked Ryan: “What circumstances did God use to make you able to discover other Christians in the army while in Iraq?”
As a commander, although Ryan had positional authority, he tried to cultivate relational authority as well. He said, “It took time to make spiritual conversation possible. I had to win the right to be heard. In many cases, although certain guys said they were Christians, it had no effect on their behavior.” He then told me how he came to discover four men who shared his faith in Christ.
The first noticed Ryan's displeasure when he saw another soldier behave unacceptably. “Why are you so upset?” the man asked him. Ryan replied, “Because I'm a Christian and it troubles me to see people act that way.” The man looked puzzled. “Well, I'm a Christian, too, and things like that don't bother me.” This exchanged opened the way for further conversations about spiritual realities.
The discovery of a second Christian came about as a result of airing political views. The team's previous leader had been outspokenly liberal. After Ryan replaced him, one of the team members became quite vocal about such issues as big-versus-small government, gun control, global warming and the school system. Then, Ryan said, the discussions went to issues like evolution, creation and abortion. When Ryan agreed with most of these views, the man said, “So then you must be a Christian, too.”
Ryan noticed that a third man had a cross tattooed on the back of his hand. Ryan asked about it—and discovered a fellow believer.
A fourth Christian surfaced while Ryan and he were working together in an armed forces booth displaying military equipment. The two of them were atop a Humvee, working with a 50-caliber machine gun. An attractive woman strolled past the booth. “Hey, said Ryan's partner, “check out that good-looking gal.” Ryan shook his head and said, “My God doesn't want me to do that.” The other soldier bristled: “I have the same God as you do.” Ryan went on to mention Jesus' words about lustful looking amounting to heart adultery. The man became silent. Then, about 15 minutes later, he asked, “Isn't it okay to at least notice that a girl is pretty?” What followed paved the way for further conversation about the Christian life.
During his time in Iraq, Ryan met with other soldiers for an on-line Bible study provided by the Navigators. They memorized verses from the Topical Memory System, shared prayer needs and prayed together. Was Ryan's effort to discover and develop relationships with Christians worth it? Definitely, he says.
First, it paid off in opportunities to be used of God in building up other members of Christ's body. Now, back in the U.S., Ryan and his wife continue to meet with a couple of the men he discovered to be Christians while in Iraq. In addition, Ryan meets on a weekday morning with his commander, one of the men who had taken part in the on-line Bible study begun in Iraq. In these morning meetings, they discuss Scripture, review what the Lord has been showing them and share prayer requests. This man is memorizing Scripture and following a daily Bible-reading schedule along with his wife.
Second, intentionally seeking out and forming relationships with believers helped Ryan stay spiritually strong himself. “The Christian new to a unit typically wants to be quiet and not make waves,” Ryan observes. “But I've learned you need to let others know you're a Christian. If you hide it, Satan will try to use it as an excuse for you to sin.”