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Screwed Up Beyond Belief Part VII


By  Ex-Pastor Dan ~

The Sendoff

My last Sunday night at the Lighthouse started off really depressing. I had prayed so hard and believed with all my might. I had ‘Faith Visioned’ myself remaining in the States – all to no avail. It was my last night at church, my last night with my girlfriend, my last night in ‘The World’; tomorrow I would return to South Viet Nam. I was disheartened, sad, fearful, and worst of all, I was questioning God. “Why God, why are you testing me so? Why aren’t you answering my prayers, and the prayers of all of your people, gathered together in the ‘One True Church’? Why is the war still raging? Why is Bro. Mac anointing me with oil and praying for protection? Why is everyone extending their hands toward me and weeping? Why can’t I just stay here where I belong? Why, why, WHY??”

I had to pull it together and act like a man! I had to act like the chosen vessel that I was. So I lifted my hands and my eyes toward heaven and began praising God. Who was I to question the almighty? I was just being selfish and my faith had been weak. I was going to need God more than ever now, so I’d better get with the program!

I let it all go; all of the fear, the discouragement, the confusion, the anguish. I let it all out. It began with a loud “OH GOD!” and that’s all I remember of what happened for the next 20 minutes. It was like that with us Pentecostals. We could work up a Cathartic Experience that would rival any Super Bowl victory celebration. I can remember times when we would have half of the congregation lying on the floor around the altar; hands raised, speaking in tongues, rolling on the floor (hence the name ‘holy rollers’), dancing, shouting, crying, shaking, moaning & groaning – Yes, we did it all, and we did it with great Gusto.

That night was no exception. “If tonight is going to be my last night, it is going to be a doosie!” And so it was! I wasn’t going to have sex with my girlfriend that night, so Jesus was going to be my surrogate. I went off into rapturous, orgiastic worship. I left my senses and sailed off into a catatonic state of self-induced, hypnotic -hysteria. I had been there many times before, but tonight, tonight it was more intense and personal than ever. Somewhere at the edge of my sane mind I could hear my cognitive thoughts, “ I may not ever come back to the States, to the Lighthouse. This could very well be IT for me, so I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth! “OH GOD, OH MY GOD, OH SWEET JESUS HELP ME! HALLELUJAH, LORD I PRAISE YOU, LORD I …. HALLOMOSHUNTEE….ROMACOTONDEEALAMATEE…RRRRONDALMAMASHAWNNTOOOS……OOOOOOH GAWD…..OOOOOOOOHH GAAAWWD….OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHH……………………”

I was somewhere over the Pacific Ocean before I came back down to earth. The Pentecostal Experience can be powerful. I didn’t know it at the time (because I was still a virgin), but it can be similar to the wonderful afterglow of sexual orgasm. I was still basking in the ‘glory’ when the stewardess told me to put my seat belt on and prepare for landing in Hawaii. We would be there for about an hour as the plane re-fueled in preparation for the long flight to Saigon. I was getting used to the idea of being back in the war. There was more for me to learn. I had proven myself to be un-worthy of a miracle from God. He must still have work for me to do in Viet Nam. This time I would not fail Him. I would carry the anointing with me. “I surrender to thy will Father, Thy will be done.”

Welcome Back

I was different when I returned this time. There was a letter from my girlfriend in almost every mail call. The church youth group (with my brother as their youth Pastor) began sending me ‘chain letters’ and those new-fangled cassette tapes. This was great! It was almost like being there; hearing the songs and their voices. My mother was great about writing and sending ‘goodie packs’ of cookies and photos. Greg (the other Chaplain’s Assistant) had really stepped up to the plate while I was gone and had things running smoothly. I could concentrate on my Wednesday night Bible Study (that I personally ran) and writing letters to my sweetheart.

I was only back about 30 days when I got some ‘bad’ but really GREAT NEWS! My grandpa had passed away. Of course this was sad news, but it meant that I got to go home again! My mother had told some little ‘white lies’ and had gotten the Red Cross to issue me an emergency leave, to come home and bury the ‘Head of our Household’. I was going home, hallelujah, going home! God was pleased with my attitude, I had passed the test and He was blessing me with the desire of my heart! God had called gramps home and now He was calling me home. I was certain that I would never return to Nam, so I said my good-byes and headed back to Saigon for the first flight out.

God the Bastard

My first week back was taken up by family duties. We had to get grandpa sent off in an appropriate manner. This was more than taken care of by all of the preachers in my family. Two of grandpa’s boys were Baptist ministers and two of his grandson’s (my brother and my cousin) were Pentecostal pastors. After the funeral, I had three weeks to be home and figure out how God was going to KEEP me there this time. I spent my days writing letters to the local Army bases, asking for them to find a spot for me. I only had a few months left of my two year duty to the Army; surely I could spend it in the States. My nights were taken up with church ( Sunday Night Worship, Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting, Thursday Night Bible Study, Saturday Night Youth Service) and dates with my girlfriend.
I managed to arrange a meeting with the Administrative Division at Fort Irwin, in southern California (just two hour’s drive from home). I headed down to San Pedro one morning, praying all the way, “Oh God, please open this door for me. I know that thou art in control and are going to bless me for my faithfulness. I thank thee in advance for what thou art about to do! In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”
“NO, sorry son, you have too much time left on your orders for Nam!” This guy sounded more like a drill sergeant than a Chaplain. “But, but, I am going to try for an early out for school and that will get me home in just a couple of months”, I moaned. “Don’t you need an experienced assistant here? Didn’t God tell you I was coming?” I was almost in tears as I began to see another miracle vaporize in front of my face. “I’m really sorry, but there’s just too much time left. If you were within 30 days of your DROS I could help you; I’m afraid it’s out of the question.”

The drive home sucked! It was ‘rush-hour’ in L.A. The smog was so thick you could taste it and it made my bronchial tubes ache when I took in a deep breath. I wept and prayed and swore. I cursed at God and asked “WHY?” I repented of my horrible sin ……. And then I would do it all again. What was God doing to me? What the fuck was God doing to me? “God, you Bastard!”

Welcome Back To Hell

This time back, Can Tho Army Airfield Chapel was different. Everyone was sullen and depressed. It seemed that even the chapel itself was sad to see me return. No one expected me back. Even our little hooch maid seemed surprised to see me. “Dan, why you come back? Family need you, you should stay home.” “Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.” What the hell was I doing back here? What more did I have to prove to God? Was God even watching me? Did he even know where I was? WAS HE EVEN REAL??

My wall of ‘faith’ was beginning to crumble. I was confused and floundering. My rudder seemed to have fallen into the depths of a deep sea of doubt. I was being tossed by the winds of disappointment and loneliness. Had God taken his hand of blessing off of me? Why was He not answering any of my prayers? Why would He lead me in one direction and then just SLAM the door in my face? “What’s going on God?”

My faith needed only a little shove, to finally push it over the edge. That shove came in the mail, soon after my return to Viet Nam. A ‘Dear John’ letter from my girlfriend! The girl I was supposed to marry; The girl that God had sent to me; The girl that was going to play the piano for our church; The girl that would bare my children … Yes, that girl; God’s Will Girl. The ONE!

My thoughts were a jumbled mess. “Either God has turned his back on me or God doesn’t exist!” My life was shattered! If my girl didn’t care about me any longer, and God didn’t give a shit about me – Fuck it! I’m going full bore into this war! There would be no more hiding out in the safe zone for me. No more sleeping in and working in an air-conditioned office, while my buddies went out every day and killed Viet Cong. If I was no longer God’s man, at least I could be Uncle Sam’s man. I would make him proud; I would make my dad proud. At least I could die for a cause. I could be buried with honors. That little bitch would cry for me then!

G.I. Joe

Chaplain Vin (the dear old Catholic Priest) was going to be going to the farthest outpost, in the south. There was a U.S. Army Major stationed down at the very tip of South Viet Nam, advising an ARVN (Army of Viet Nam) platoon. He had been there for months and was requesting a Catholic Priest to give him a Mass. The area was too heavily jungled to land a helo. Chaplain Vin was asking for volunteers to escort him down, by jeep.

“I’ll take you Padre,” I spoke up. “We’ll need a driver and a body guard,” he said. “I’ll ride shot gun and Doug will drive,” I arranged before anyone else could speak. Doug was our newest Chaplain’s Assistant. He was an OJT (On the Job Trainee) that had been infantry, before getting injured. I had helped Chaplain Timm baptize him in the Mekong River; he would do anything I said. So with that 30 second meeting, it was all set.

I took the back seat out of the jeep and replaced it with my office chair, because it swiveled and would give me the ability to turn 360 degrees for spotting and firing. I borrowed a bush hat from one of the door gunners I knew and a couple of ammo belts from the ordnance mag. I looked like G.I. Joe – I was ready to kick ass. Nothing would stop us from getting Chaplain Vinnie to that Mass … nothing! I didn’t pray for protection this time; I prayed that God would deliver the enemy into our hands. With a quick sign of the cross and a belch of blue smoke from the God Squad jeep, we were off.