Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Voice

I was playing in a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago, enjoying the beautiful weather and the fellowship of other golfers. Following our play, we gathered in the clubhouse for lunch. There were quite a few men I had not previously met seated at the same table with me. Little did I suspect what was about to unfold.

We were all having a wonderful time discussing the various aspects of our golfing abilities (or lack thereof), consuming copious quantities of food and beverage, and generally doing what men do when gathered in such a social setting. After having introduced ourselves, Jim, who was sitting directly across the circular table from me, asked what I did for a living. I mentioned that I was a pastor, but that I had also retired last September from the Navy as a chaplain. Jim mentioned that he, too, had retired from the Navy as a JAG. Yup! Same as the TV show a few years back. JAG, for the uninformed, is an acronym for Judge Advocate General, which in Navy-speak, is a lawyer.

So there we were chatting along nicely when Jim asks me if I had ever run across a friend of his who was a retired Navy chaplain by the name of Dave Schroeder. My ears perked up at that! I told him there was a Chaplain Schroeder (for some reason I had remembered his last name) who called me in January of 1983 while I was pastoring my first church in Fresno, California. He had heard that I was a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve. He asked me if I’d ever considered being a Navy chaplain. I said that it had never crossed my mind. What I didn’t tell him was once you’ve been a Marine, why would you want to be anything less? Anyway, I asked him what the qualifications were. He explained them briefly, at which point I realized I met all of them. I then asked if I could serve with the Marines, to which he said, “Sure.” All right! Now we’re talking! My conversation with Chaplain Schroeder ended with my agreeing to pray about the possibility of becoming a Navy chaplain. The rest, as they say, is history.

My new JAG friend, Jim, said he’d check with his friend, Dave, to see if he was the same Chaplain Schroeder I had spoken with, lo, these many years ago. At that point I dismissed it from my mind thinking nothing was going to come from this.

Sunday afternoon I received a call on my cell phone while attending a birthday party for my son-in-law. The voice at the other end of the line said, “This is Chaplain Dave Schroeder. I understand that I might have been responsible for you becoming a Navy chaplain.” I asked him if he had served a church in Fresno in the early 1980s. He said that he had indeed. Concluding that this was the same man who had called me, I reminded him of our long ago phone conversation. Since I needed to get back to the party, we agreed to meet for a round of golf the following week in Stockton where he had since retired. We could then spend some time together with me filling him in on all the happenings since we had first spoken together.

Over the intervening years I had occasionally wondered about the voice at the other end of the line who had called me that day in 1983. That call had opened a door of ministry for me that I simply could not have fathomed. For the next twenty-five years I would be serving the men and women of the Navy/Marine Corps all over the world, in peacetime and in war.

Did the voice at the other end of the phone line that day realize what events he helped to set in motion? Did he know how it would change the course of my life and that of my family’s? I had wondered at times if he perhaps hesitated that day in reaching for the phone to call me. All chaplains are expected to help in the recruiting process, that’s just part of what we do. He probably had received a call from someone in DC who had my name on a slip of paper and asked Dave to call me sometime. How long did that phone message sit on his desk before he made the call?

God does indeed work in mysterious ways! After almost twenty-seven years I’m grateful that the voice at the other end of the line has been identified. I thank God for Dave Schroeder being faithful to the Lord in making a phone call that would change the course of my life.

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