A football field isn’t the first thing that comes to mind as a training ground for a minister. But for Army Reserve Chaplain Jon Butler ’01, it was sweating through two-a-days with the Northwestern football team that helped prepare him for his current assignment with the 16th Psychological Operations Task Force at Camp Victory, Iraq.
“The military is about training and drills and UNW football coaches were able to incorporate life lessons and short devotionals into our practices—this was a good model for military ministry.”
Ministering to soldiers in Baghdad is a “front-lines approach” to being engaged in the world—a mission and venue that Butler embraces. “I like the idea of being part of something bigger than myself and serving those who protect our nation from various threats.” Butler considers it God’s calling to reach out to those serving in a Middle East combat zone. “I am here to help soldiers grow in the faith. There is a phrase in the chaplaincy that states: ‘we bring God to soldiers and soldiers to God.’”
Camp Victory is a mission field unlike any other. “Dealing with the effects of sin and war in the lives of soldiers is most challenging,” admitted Butler. His ministry includes organized activities such as preaching at chapel, holding special classes and sponsoring Bible studies. But it’s through individual relationships that he works to build trust. There is a “Band of Brothers” sense of camaraderie among the soldiers at Camp Victory.
“The more I get to know the soldiers here, the more I appreciate the sacrifices they make to carry out their duties.”
Friend, brother, counselor. Butler willingly steps into all these roles in order to minister to soldiers who are far from home and loved ones. He knows firsthand what it’s like to be separated from family; he hasn’t been home for over a year, but hopes to be reunited with his wife Melissa (Poore ’05) at their home in Chicago this summer.
Even with the Internet, it is just not the same as being there and miscommunication between soldiers and their families can easily happen. “Perhaps the most challenging is to provide wise counsel to soldiers who are facing divorce or who already have broken families.” Butler believes he is there not only to give comfort and counsel, but more importantly to further God’s kingdom.
Butler’s worldview has changed during his time at Camp Victory. He thinks more about the shortness of life and the reality of death. His depth of faith has changed too. “I have a better understanding of how the Gospel applies to our lives now.”
More than anything, Butler is grateful for the experience. “I am here to help soldiers grow in the faith. It is a fantastic and meaningful opportunity to pass God’s message along to those who serve in the Army. I thank God for the opportunity.”
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