Chaplain shows “Good Morning America” audience how to minister to families

Communications Staff — March 27, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — United States Air Force chaplain Andrew Thornley recently demonstrated to a national television audience that the war in Iraq offers Christians a unique opportunity to minister to the families of deployed U.S. troops.

The war is also creating a wide open mission field for military chaplains, he said.

On March 19, Thornley, a 2000 graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., appeared on ABC’s popular morning show, “Good Morning America” (GMA) to discuss how parents can tell their children about the war.

Thornley spoke about the military chaplaincy with GMA host Charles Gibson and answered questions on war from a panel of children whose parents have been deployed in Iraq.

Thornley, who serves as an Air Force chaplain at McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown, N.J., said of the war effort, “It’s a difficult time on military families in general, but the military chaplaincy is ready for this. We are reaching out to the families. We do a lot of counseling.”

By fielding questions from a panel of children, Thornley demonstrated how his counseling ministry offers comfort to military families.

In answer to 7-year-old Cynthia Bensberg’s question, “Why do we have to go to war?” Thornley replied, “Cynthia, that’s a great question, and I’d ask a question to you. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where everybody got along, everybody was nice to each other, everybody told the truth and nobody wanted to hurt anybody else?

“That would be a great place to live wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, our world’s not like that yet. We live in a place where there are bad people who do bad things, and nobody wants to go to war. But sometimes we have to do that.”

When Emily Lucas asked how to make the time go by faster while her dad is serving in Iraq, Thornley encouraged her to pray. “If I were you,” he said, “I would just try my best to go about life as normally as possible. Think about your dad. Pray for your dad. Realize he’s over there doing this for you because he loves you, and he loves this country.”

Ultimately, however, military chaplaincy includes far more than simply explaining theories of just war to children, Thornley told Baptist Press. “My primary purpose for being a chaplain is to fulfill the Great Commission,” he said. “ This is in my mind one of the best kept secrets about doing ministry in America—that is, the mission field of the military…Indeed the fields are ripe for harvest.”

And according to ABC, an increasing number of soldiers are coming to appreciate the ministry of military chaplains as the war intensifies. With reports of U.S troops being baptized in the Kuwaiti desert and military churches overflowing, chaplains say that the danger of military conflict is driving soldiers to contemplate their spiritual condition.

Stephanie Walker, a soldier serving in Iraq, told ABC that the danger of war has made her think about her relationship with God more seriously than she has in years. “I get a little nervous out here and think, ‘Maybe I should get things straight,’” said Walker.

For Thornley, one of the most effective ways of ministering to military personnel like Walker has been through a small group ministry called, “Ministry Reaching Everyone.” This ministry brings soldiers and their families together for small group Bible studies, discussions, and prayer times. It brings a network of prayer support and Christian fellowship to the lives of transient military families, he said.

Prior to his ministry as a chaplain, Thornley pastored Southern Baptist churches in South Carolina for more than a decade.

In the final analysis, Thornley told GMA that it has been a great honor to minister to the families who risk their lives to protect our nation.

“They have very special families,” he said. “They are willing to put on the uniform and to defend the country. And in regards to that, it’s not easy. But everyone I‘ve found wearing the military uniform, every family, has just been exceptional in their character. So they can be proud of that.”

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