Turning the Tide
God transforms lives in the military–one Bible at a time.
What did I do?”
U.S. Navy Chaplain Anthony Reilly* was nervous, and rightfully so. It wasn’t every day that he got summoned into the office of a high-ranking Navy official. Besides, this particular officer had a reputation that preceded him. Closed-door meetings typically involved heavy doses of screaming and swearing. What had Chaplain Reilly done to deserve this?
As the door shut behind him, Chaplain Reilly braced himself for the worst. But the worst never came. To his amazement, the terrifying Navy officer didn’t look so terrifying. He looked weary. The officer took a deep breath and began to unload, not the bout of profanities Chaplain Reilly had been expecting, but the burden from his 34 years of service in the military.
Incredibly, the man who orchestrated Navy operations across half the world had been crippled by grief and guilt. “Ordering others to kill had taken a toll on him,” explains Chaplain Reilly. “It weighed on him very heavily.”
Chaplain Reilly took a risk at that critical moment: He pulled out his Military Edition Bible from American Bible Society and began to apply the healing balm of God’s Word. Using the reading plan in his Bible as a guide, Chaplain Reilly introduced the guiltstricken officer to Joshua, David and Peter. All of them, explained Chaplain Reilly, were violent and sinful men. And yet, they were chosen as God’s disciples—forgiven and called to follow Jesus.
Looking back on that conversation, Chaplain Reilly calls his Military Edition Bible, “a modern day miracle.” It proved a uniquely practical weapon for spiritual battle. But while his experience may have felt miraculous, it certainly wasn’t unique. On the front lines of the U.S. Military, strategically crafted Scripture resources meet the spiritual needs of service members every day.
“If anyone is considering their own mortality, it is those who are in the military,” explains Art Pace, executive director for the Armed Services Ministry of American Bible Society. A retired U.S. Army chaplain himself, Pace knows that when ministering to spiritually vulnerable troops, it isn’t enough to toss a Bible at them; you have to design a Bible for them.
“Each of our Bibles has study materials in it…they’re meant for the military,” says Pace. “Everything about it, including its size, is all designed because we’re thinking about them.”
Even style choices help troops dig into the substance of God’s Word. Bible covers bear service-specific colors. And when requested by chaplains, the covers are foil-stamped with unit-specific crests. Pace says that when troops pick it up, they think, “Somebody thought about me when they put this Bible together.” And Pace sees this thoughtful Bible design paying off, “They pick it up, and it changes their lives.”
This life change takes a variety of forms in the daily lives of U S. troops. In many cases, thoughtfully designed Bibles provide an easy onramp for service members with no prior contact with Scripture.
Mark* is one such sailor who wasn’t looking for God when he joined the Navy. “I was raised in a home where we didn’t have much spiritual guidance,” he says. That changed when he received a camouflage Bible with a reading plan from American Bible Society. “I started going to service and learning more about our Lord and Savior. He has impacted my life so much by assisting me in daily struggles.”
Many troops identify with Mark’s triumph over negative behaviors. One recipient rejoices that, “Jesus helped me to stop smoking, drinking and committing adultery, all throughout basic training.”
In other cases, military Bibles equip service members who are already following God. Sarah*, a soldier in the National Guard, says, “I came on this deployment already a Christian, but knowing from a previous deployment how difficult it is to remain true and faithful.”
“Jesus helped me to stop smoking, drinking and committing adultery, all throughout basic training.”
Sarah credits the Basic Training Challenge in her Bible—a specialized reading plan for troops—for keeping her focused on the Lord day in and day out. “My goal was to return from the deployment more faithful and closer to God,” she says. “I achieved this goal!”
But Bibles aren’t just a vital resource for troops on deployment. The life-changing power of God’s Word reaches into the home. “It also becomes a cohesive point for marriages…able to bring together husbands and wives and children around the central message of God’s Holy Word,” says Pace.
Jeremy* experienced this transformation in his own home. Months after receiving his military Bible from American Bible Society, Jeremy found that damaging trends in his marriage had been totally reversed. “Now my wife and I pray together every night,” he says. “Our lives are more positive.”
And thanks to new digital Bible resources, troops like Jeremy can continue to study God’s Word with their families while on deployment. The online version of the Basic Training Challenge allows service members to discuss the Bible with loved ones back home through online study groups. In this way, troops experience the loving support of their Christian communities during the difficult season of deployment.
Perhaps the most astounding element in all these stories is their sheer contingency; without the faithful partners of American Bible Society, the spiritual fate of these service members might look very different indeed. Effective Bible resources, though desperately needed, are not abounding on the front lines.
“I hear constantly that if it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t have any resources,” says Annie LoCastro of American Bible Society’s Armed Services Ministry. She helps chaplains order resources, like Military Challenge Edition Bibles, free of charge. LoCastro understands the vital need met by American Bible Society, “What we do is really making an eternal difference in people’s lives&hellip this ministry is extremely effective.”
And this Bible ministry ultimately touched the war-torn heart of Chaplain Reilly’s intimidating Navy officer. Chaplain Reilly fondly remembers the end of their conversation, when he asked the beleaguered officer to respond to God’s Word.
“Take my hand,” said Chaplain Reilly. Tough-guy skepticism flashed across the officer’s face.
“You’re not holding my hand, you’re taking it,” insisted Chaplain Reilly. The man reluctantly obliged.
“Tell God whatever you want to tell him.”
The officer blew out air. “I feel like I lost ten pounds,” he admitted.
Chaplain Reilly smiled.
“I’m forgiven,” muttered the officer. “That’s incredible.”
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