Naval chaplain ministers amid war’s individual victories and casualties

Communications Staff — April 9, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Ron Nordan is not wielding arms on the front lines as American soldiers fight to wrench Iraq from the death-grip of a dictatorial regime.

But the U.S. Navy chaplain and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate deals daily with both victories and casualties within the lives of those who are engaging in the war.

Nordon, who holds two degrees from Southern Seminary, serves aboard the USS Camden, a ship that equips other vessels with ammunition, fuel, and food to actively engage in battle. Since the Camden left for the Gulf last July, he has witnessed 35 Christian conversions among those on board.

He averages 17 counseling sessions per week, preaches twice each Sunday, and holds Bible studies each Wednesday. Yet, his toughest task has been delivering the news to a female soldier that her 2 ½-year-old daughter had been murdered back in the states.

“I spent over a half an hour in prayer before going to find her and telling her the tragic news,” he said in an e-mail interview.

“Looking back over the whole situation, I can see that the Holy Spirit stepped right in, giving me the words to say and guiding my thoughts and actions. Within eight hours, she was on her way home, which is highly unusual given the fact we were in the Persian Gulf at the time.”

While he has seen numerous conversions and “rededications,” Nordan says the USS Camden is a mission field.

“For about 20 percent of our ship, this time has provided a challenge to improve our relationship with God and with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ,” Nordan said. “Unfortunately, I would estimate that over 65 percent on our ship are not born-again believers.

“It is a challenge for every born-again believer to work and live in an environment where a Christian is in the minority. Pray for those Christians on board that they would continue to grow closer to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that they would effectively witness both in word and deed.”

Nordan received two degrees from Southern Seminary. The Washington, D.C. native graduated in 1992 with a master of church music degree and again in 1998 with a master of divinity in theology. While working on the second degree, Nordan served as a grader for preaching professor Hershael York. He joined the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps in 2002.

There are concerns both without and within the USS Camden for Nordan. While the ship is not launching Tomahawk missiles or scrambling F-16s on bombing missions, the presence of floating mines, enemy air and boat assaults are ever-present dangers, he said.

Among Nordon’s chief concerns – and prayer requests – is for the marital relationships of his shipmates. Several marriages have begun to crumble beneath the immense weight of the long-term physical separation of soldier and spouse.

“The stress of having been out here for so long with no set return date has take its toll on every person aboard,” Nordan said. “To date, there are at least 10 marriages that are heading for divorce when we return. There are bound to be more challenges for our married couples to face, not to mention what our single sailors will be going through.”

Nordan has been away from his family for almost nine months and is not certain when he will return home. He said God has given him the grace to endure these lonely months. Consistent communication with his wife and kids helps, he said.

Nordan speaks with his wife, Cindy, 3 to 4 times per week by phone and exchanges e-mail with her several times each day. He also swaps e-mail with his children, Grace, 10, and Timothy, 7, numerous times during the week. Cindy Nordan works as a music teacher outside of Bremerton, Washington, where the family lives.

“My wife does an outstanding job with both of our children, while at the same time affirming me in my ministry and letting our children know that their father loves them very much,” Nordan said. “I am very blessed. God has brought us close even in the midst of this separation.”

One great source of encouragement for Nordan has been the response of chapel attendees to his expository preaching. Careful verse-by-verse teaching from Scripture is a new concept even to soldiers who have attended church for years, he said.

“Several shipmates shared that they had gone to church their whole lives without hearing a sermon that came from the Bible,” he said. “I thank God that He has me here at this time and in this place. That really demonstrates the great truth of the power of God’s Word.”

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