11/11/2010 | Share this article:By ex-Pastor Dan ~
VIET NAM: THE LONGEST YEAR OF MY LIFE
PART 2 – SAINTS & SINNERS
As soon as the doors opened and I walked into the chapel, I once again felt at peace. There was a familiarity in entering a church building. Even though I had never been inside of the Can Tho Army Airfield Chapel, immediately it felt like home. If was empty and quiet with simple wooden pews and an old upright piano standing proudly on the right side of the raised platform. There was a utilitarian pulpit at the center with a table directly behind for holding the sacraments which were used during Catholic Mass. Now, since no Mass was planned until the next morning, the table held only a silver crucifix. It was the largest one I had ever seen; three feet tall and 4 inches wide. Seeing Jesus, dead on the cross, made me feel sad. We Protestants never had Jesus still hanging on our crosses. “We serve a RISEN LORD!” Brother Mac would exclaim. “To the Catholics, Jesus is still on the cross, but to us Pentecostals, he is Risen, Alive and Coming Again…..Hallelujah!”
Brother Mac hated Catholics. It was no secret. He even taught that the Catholic Church was the Anti-Christ. We were Historicists when it came to our interpretation of Revelation. The Great Tribulation had already occurred and the thousand-year reign of Christ was said to have taken place from 326 CE (when Constantine ordained Christianity as the official religion) until around 1300 /- when the dark ages and Islam got started??? I know, it sounds even kookier than pre-millennialism, but if Brother Mac said it…..it was gospel.
So now I found myself in a very precarious position, I was going to have to work for the Anti-Christ. In Viet Nam, every chapel had to service All Faiths. I would be working for three Protestants, two Catholics and a Jewish Rabbi. Back in Texas, we had a different chapel for each major faith, but not here; this was a ‘one-size-fits-all’ situation. I was trained at Chaplain’s School to be able to set up for any kind of service. I could have the sanctuary set up as a Synagogue on Saturday evening (with the giant menorah on the platform table), ready for Mass at 0700 the next morning, followed by Sunday School for the Protestants at 0900. Being trained to do it is one thing, having to actually do it is quite another. I didn’t think I would actually have to work for a Catholic priest. Back in Texas I worked for Chaplain Stewart, a good ol’ Baptist, just like my uncles. But here, I was really going to be setting up for a real Mass; actually facilitating priests of Mystery Babylon-The Great Whore of the Revelation. I know that this sounds incredibly silly now, but then, I was shaking in my combat boots. It was very real to me and I was tormented. “What do I do God? Why are you testing me like this? Should I refuse to work for Catholic priests and be court marshaled? Is this how I finally get to go home?”
Besides us two Jesus Freak, Chaplain’s Assistants, there were a couple of others who qualified as ‘saints’. As far as Chaplains go, Chaplain Timm was one of the best. He was a Methodist from Washington State. A family man with four or five kids back home with his wife. I became close with Harry and eventually helped lead him in receiving the ‘infilling of the Holy Spirit’. He claimed that he saw a vision of water running across dry ground as he spoke in tongues. After that, we became close friends and began having altar calls and baptizing new converts in the Mekong River, just south of the base.
Army Specialist - Dean M. was a soldier who came to the chapel every day. It was his refuge, his place to hang out. Whenever his workday was finished, Dean was either in my office or in the sanctuary, reading his Bible. He never missed a Sunday service or Bible Study. We could always count on Dean to be there.
There was also a three person team that had been sent to Vietnam by Teen Challenge. The drug problem had gotten so bad in Nam by 1971 that the desperate, military brass actually allowed civilians to work with Army drug addicts. And believe me, there were a lot of drug addicts; especially if you counted Alcohol as a drug. The team consisted of a husband and wife and a single guy. They did their own thing and didn’t get much involved in our chapel activities. It was a tough job and I always felt bad for the young wife, surrounded by horny, drugged-out zombies. The Army didn’t even make these druggies go out on patrol any more. They couldn’t be trusted, so they just sat around in their hooches and got high on cheap, powerful opiates; waiting for their DROS date.
Of course there were many sinners who never darkened the doors of our chapel, but there were a couple of ‘insiders’ who qualified as sinners (at least in my book).
Father Daniel was one such fellow. He was your typical Irish-Catholic priest from the East Coast. He definitely fit the mold that I had fixed in my mind’s eye. I had never been around many Catholics growing up and certainly had never met or known a priest, but this guy was just what I expected and dreaded. He was a smoker (which was a major sin in the Pentecostal world I grew up in) and a raging Alcoholic. Every night we would see him walking back from the PX with a brown, paper bag which contained a fifth of Irish whiskey. He performed a daily Mass that I had to prepare. He was the only priest that I ever worked for who demanded that the wine cruet be filled to the brim for every Mass. I guess it helped kick-start his buzz for the day! That reminds me of a funny story (funny now, it sure wasn’t then!) that involved father Daniel.
I had set up for father Daniel’s morning mass. I had done this every day for months, so it had become second nature to me. Just before Mass began, I would retreat to my office (so I would not be corrupted by this pagan ritual) and close the door. About 10 minutes into the Mass my door flew open. I looked up from my desk to see a very red-faced and angry Major (this guy never missed a Mass unless he was flying a mission). Before I could speak he hissed, “Father has NO WINE!!” “Oh Shit!” I almost said out loud. Somehow I had forgotten to fill the cruet! I ran to the closet where we kept the Mogan-David, communion wine and turned to run down the aisle. “I’ll do it” the Major declared, with flames in his eyes and a look that said, “If I was you commanding officer, I would bust you down to Private and send you out to the bush, right now!” Actually I was relieved that he offered, I didn’t want to face father Daniel who was now embarrassed and extremely ‘thirsty’ (if you catch my drift). Father Daniel never spoke to me again after that day. Luckily we had recently been assigned a second Chaplain’s Assistant to help me and I turned father Daniel’s Mass over to Doug (sorry Doug!).
While serving my year in Viet Nam I spent a considerable amount of time trying to discern God’s will. Finding God’s will for my life was uppermost in my mind. It was what I prayed about and studied. I listened to teaching tapes (cassettes) called ‘Finding the Will of God’ by Bob Mumford. Mumford was considered the leading teacher of the ‘Finding God’s Will for your Life’ ministry at that time. I would quiz Chaplain Timm and the other Protestant Chaplain’s. I was obsessed with it. “I must find God’s will for my life”. I would be going home soon and I didn’t know what I should do with my life. Should I go back to college or just go back to the Lighthouse and get married? Was I really called to the ministry or should I just be a good layman? Should I continue with my music studies or go to Bible School and prepare to be a preacher? How do you know if you are in the ‘center of God’s will’?
With all of these questions swirling in my mind and with my time in Nam coming to a close, I did something completely out of character, I went to one of our Catholic priests for counsel.
Father Vin was an old Colonel who had been in the Army a long, long time. We didn’t see him much because he was the ‘field Chaplain’. He never did a Mass inside the chapel; in fact, he was rarely ever at the chapel. He was always out, catching rides with any chopper he could flag down, going anywhere they were going. It was his fourth tour of Nam and he knew why he was there; he was there for the soldiers. He gave more ‘last rites’ to dying men than any priest in the Mekong Delta. Yet he seemed to have a peace about him. He was genuinely joyful in his attitude about life. He was certainly a conundrum to me. I felt so guilty because….I Liked Him! He was something special. I knew he was part of the ‘Anti-Christ’, Catholic Church, but holy shit, I admired him. I was drawn to this old, white-haired, rotund and ruddy-faced…almost angelic man. What was going on? Why was this Catholic by far and away the most ‘godly’ man I had ever met? “What are you trying to tell me God?”
Anyway, I was desperate and I knew Father Vin would be straight with me. He would tell it like it is. He would hit me between the eyes. He would tell me how many years it was going to take to seek out God’s will for my life. I was sure he was going to tell me that I must go to seminary (or even a monastery) and make vows to God. I would have to close myself away and seek God with all of my being. After being found worthy, God would speak to me. I was ready, I would do it, anything to find God’s will! With that, I cornered him during one of his rare visits to the base:
“Father Vin, how do you find God’s will and how do you know when you’ve found it?” I cringed and turned my head half sideways and looked at the floor. I was prepared; ready for the blow that he was about to deliver to my soul. I was ready to follow him down to the altar and let him serve me communion and sprinkle me with holy water. Whatever it took, I had to know what this man knew. I wanted to know his secret. This dear old Padre knew that he was in the center of God’s will. I knew it, he knew it; everyone who knew him knew it. “How, how, how can you know if you’re in God’s will?” my words echoed through the empty sanctuary.
Without hesitation he answered me with astounding confidence in his voice………..
“Danny m’boy, in over 50 years of serving God, I’VE FOUND IT IMPOSSIBLE TO BE OUT OF HIS WILL!”
How could this be? Why didn’t I have that kind of assurance and confidence in my call? Why would God give this Catholic such an incredible gift? Why, he wasn’t even filled with the Holy Spirit!
It couldn’t be that easy. “Father Vin must be messing with me.” But I knew he wasn’t, I knew he was being honest and somehow his answer rang true. But, he was a Catholic, the Anti-Christ…………..
“God, what is going on?????”
Next Time –