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Two ministries worth noting this Memorial Day

Last February, I wrote about what it was like to be at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, when my favorite Marine returned from a deployment. What I didn’t mention then was that there was someone besides Charlie Battery family members waiting that night — Tom Scaife, a graying Marine whose enlistment ended nearly 30 years ago. Scaife runs Missions to Military Inc., a Christian outreach in nearby Jacksonville that provides discipleship and fellowship for military members when chaplains are often stretched thin. He was there at 3 a.m. to welcome my son and another ministry regular back to base.

While we waited at battalion headquarters, Scaife told me he felt the call to military ministry when his son began attending The Citadel. He’d been a pastor for 12 years, had a doctorate from Southern Seminary, and was certified as a counselor. But more than any academic credential, Scaife’s four-year enlistment prepared him to relate to Marines and sailors: “The military culture says step on the guy next to you, and do better than he does. It says spend your money foolishly, rather than be good stewards. I’m here to encourage them to fear God more than man, and to live out the gospel credibly.”

A lot of that teaching happens over meals cooked by Sciafe’s wife, Kyung. They offer Bible studies, marriage classes, and financial seminars dealing with the unique challenges of military life. They discuss Stuart Scott’s “Killing Sin Habits,” important preparation for the environment they face during deployments.

Two days before Charlie Battery’s early-morning return to Lejeune, the group of Marines had been training on the island of Okinawa. Less than half the size of Rhode Island, Okinawa plays host to some 13 military installations, but Charlie had been housed primarily at one — Camp Hansen, which gained notoriety in 1996, when three American servicemen stationed there were convicted of the kidnapping and rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl.

Okinawans still complain about the base, but local merchants also profit from its vices. Located just a short walk from Hansen’s main gate, Kin Town is also known by Marines as “Sin Town.” Jesse, 20, a corporal on his second duty assignment, told me the area offers bars, strip clubs, tattoo parlors, and a handful of restaurants catering to drunks: “Kin is where everyone on base goes to do whatever they want, because they have the mentality of ‘what happens in Kin, stays in Kin. Most on this base believe that if there is a God, He has left Camp Hansen.”

For Christians like Jesse, isolation is a real part of their military experience. Evangelicals are a rarity in most units. Marines who don’t swear or drink feel excluded from social gatherings. Peter, a seasoned gunnery sergeant with 17 years of service, says pride is also an issue: “The fruits of the Spirit are seen as weakness in the personality of a Marine. We are expected to be demanding and show little concern for the lost.”

Darrow and Vicki Frazier direct the Hansen Christian Center, a Cadence International outpost just 500 yards from the base. My son spent a lot of time there, especially on Friday nights, when the couple hosts Bible studies. Some weeks as many as 40 Marines, airmen, soldiers, and sailors fill the couches and bean bags furnishing the lower-level den. Home-cooked meals provide a draw for the all-singles crowd, and Vicki says relationships are built while washing dishes, and they’re built using first names. No “yes, sir,” “no, sir,” or ranks. Bible study attenders run the gamut, from boots on their first assignments to decorated colonels. Dropping designations makes everyone more comfortable.

Some visitors arrive at the Center looking for outings. Others have pressing needs. “We’re all broken, but a lot of your Marines are really broken,” Darrow Frazier, a veteran himself, says. “They become Marines to prove something to whoever broke them.” The Center celebrates a lot of 19th and 20th birthdays, and is also there for the tough times. Just last year, an Osprey aircraft crashed during training exercises in waters near Hansen, requiring participants of the Center to help in the cleanup. Frazier says those kinds of experiences often lead to moments of soul-searching and receptivity. He’s glad to be there when they do.

A portion of this column is reprinted by permission from WORLD Magazine. Kim Henderson is a freelance writer from Wesson. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.