Insisting on the Goodness of God: A Letter to Us from Kandahar, Afghanistan
“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against… the spiritual forces of evil.”
Presently, I am wrestling to find sustaining joy in ministry while serving the LORD as a deployed Army National Guard chaplain in Afghanistan. Although the news reports back home appear to cover less and less of the conflict raging its course, battles, death, and horrific acts by the Taliban and ISIS are a daily occurrence. The line which I attempt to balance between my pacifistic prayers for peace and the warrior ethos of a chaplain is often a blurry one. I am between that place of Scripture’s call to “beat your plowshares into swords (declaring) ‘I am a warrior’” (Joel 3:10) and the hope of such a reversal, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4).”
The battle is not just in the desert of this country; it lies within the desert that is my soul as well. “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) becomes a prayer of faith—that God will bring total peace to this war-torn nation, to our wearied troops, and to my often depleted cup. As I experience Jesus’ promise that “In this world you will have trouble,” I struggle to see his follow up of “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Yet, in faith, I must insist upon the goodness He declared.
When I was a student at Asbury Theological Seminary, I found strength amongst several students and professors; this community sustained me as I participated in a Wesley-style band with a few brothers in Christ. I’ve attempted to follow suit throughout my ministry by leaning into the means of grace of Christian community alongside other brothers and sisters serving in full-time Christian vocations. However, although surrounded by other believers, such opportunities to bare my soul with other chaplains is a luxury not often afforded to me here due to the distance separating us.
As I look to the hills for help, God has established me in that place of David in the cave, of John on the island of Patmos, or of Peter sinking in the water—surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, yet also trusting that my help comes only from the LORD. Pausing from my own emptiness, I am able to hear the echoes of the persecuted Church throughout this world, the pain of you who are serving difficult pastorates, and of the Christian hanging by a thread at the end of his or her rope. We are never truly alone. As we “comfort those who are in any affliction” might we likewise learn what it means to be comforted by God (1 Corinthians 1:4)?
My mentor and friend, Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas, inscribed to me once, “May you always enjoy the indispensable luxury of God’s anointing.” How could my cup ever be truly empty? Anyone reading this letter knows well the joys and the struggles of ministry, of the blessings of declaring the hope of the Good News of Jesus Christ and of the sorrow when it is vehemently rejected by others. Through His grace, as our souls thirst for God in a dry and weary land (Psalm 63:1) we can know to the core of our being that the source of all fullness is discovered in the Vine (John 15). In faith, we must stay connected to the Light shining in the darkness (John 1:5) so that the indispensable luxury of His anointing will continue to fill our cups.
I am grateful for my experiences at Asbury. A day never passed when I did not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit on the campus. Such is an accurate and true statement of my four years there. Asbury is filled with holy people practicing the presence of Christ on a daily basis, learning together what it means to be loved by God. Asbury equipped me with an ability to declare the whole Bible for the whole world. Yet, it is not the institution that sustains me; it is not the faculty and staff, my fellow alumni and workers of the harvest – it is the Lord, Jesus Christ, risen from the grave and ascended on high.
Jesus is the reason I sing within, “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; Ponder nothing earthly-minded, for with blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.”[i] So, in faith, though separated from loved ones in a war-torn nation, and although often left to wrestle with my own inadequacies and isolation, I will continue to insist on the goodness He declared.
Blessings in Christ,
Chaplain (Major) Brandon Candee
[i] “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” The Liturgy of Saint James, trans. by Gerard Moultrie. The United Methodist Hymnal, 626 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).
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