Friday, November 4, 2011

Update: Week One

I really don’t have a theme for this blog entry. Yet, as our days unfold, “Like an ever rolling stream,” I wanted to highlight a few images from our first week in Afghanistan. I have described chaplaincy as friendship, and this really is the best word. In our first week, friendship in this place has meant many things.

Chow Hall adventures -
For all of you who had complaints about collegiate dining options, I wish you could visit us here at Bagram. But let me start with the positive. It’s all free. We all know that free food tastes a little better, no matter what it is or how repetitive it becomes. There is always salad, coke zero, and jelly beans. What more could a deployed soldier want? And, often, there are grilled cheese sandwiches. Not quite the gourmet variety found at the Schminkey/Holben household, but in a pinch, still really good! It’s been a week, however, and I don’t think the food has changed much day to day. All this said, any baked goods or treats that come our way will be very appreciated. The other “positive” of one chow option is that you can always find a friend to sit with. I feel like I am back in freshmen year. Dining is often a group event that happens at 5:30, just in time for the senior citizen special.

New friends -
I am still the battalion chaplain for the 14th MI BN, but we have been subsumed in a larger unit called Task Force Viper. My flock has doubled and, let me just say, I feel like I am constantly in an episode of NCIS or Bones. These are my new people. Along with the usual “intel” suspects, we also work with a community of linguists who serve as interpreters. Though I have only had a few interactions with them, I am looking forward to a growing relationship over this year. Many of them are from Afghanistan but are now US citizens. They bring amazing depth and understanding to our team and we could not do this without them. While talking to one man earlier, I realized how wrong my assumptions could be about an individual born in Afghanistan. At some point in our conversation he mentioned, almost sheepishly, that he was a Republican. I had to laugh and tell him that I had a lot of family members who fell in the same category. We could still be friends. In our conversation it became clear that he was also well versed in the New Testament. I am sure, over these months, I will be surprised again and again. This is the wonderful thing about new friends. In reaching out across nationality and birthplace as well as religion and culture, if we so choose to see it, we discover that we share more similarities than differences.

Tents -
We are still living in them. A few nights ago, before I fully accepted that we would not get moved in a timely manner, I convinced myself that I was going to get lice from the mattress that probably has never been “cleaned.” Because this is so “temporary,” I don’t even have a pillow, but sleep with my fleece under my head. I try, every time I get in my sleeping bag, to not allow my imagination to snow ball… between spiders the size of my hand and the threat of cobras, there is a lot I can get worked up about. Yet, there is a blessing in balancing and really having to let go of managing all of the “threats” that seem to lurk somewhere over the horizon. Whether it is a possible rocket attack or a vehicle born explosive device, whether it is a stomach virus easily passed around a camp where people live on top of one another and bathrooms are less than sterile, whether it is fear of an assault in the dark hours of the night and all the possible threats in between, at some point I have given up on worrying about controlling it all. I just can’t. All I can do is pay attention, watch out for obvious signs of harm, and pray for peace of heart and mind.

Shabbat service -
Tonight I brought a few of my soldiers to a Shabbat service. I told them that it was their only opportunity to drink while in Afghanistan. That is not the ONLY reason that I wanted to attend. It was a wonderful night of prayers and eating. There were only a handful of Jews, a few Christians, and then a soft spoken, yet witty, Muslim. It struck me, as we prayed and ate together, sometimes serious and often laughing through the Hebrew phrases, that this myriad of people is exactly what sharing God’s table should look like. I plan to go back again next Friday.
It has been two weeks since we left San Antonio. As I write this, a year seems like a long time. It’s actually too hard to think about a whole year. So, for now, I am thinking about tomorrow, finishing a sermon on Joshua for Sunday’s Pentecostal service and figuring out how I am going to fold my socks in the dark. I may even be able to think about next week and how I will start to move things into my new office. But not a whole year. It’s just too much for my brain to fathom. And, this is a good thing. It would be easy to wish this year away, but I should take some of my own advice. This is about the day to day, discovering God’s gifts of manna in the desert, remembering that with a faithful God, there is always enough. It may not be what we want or hope for, but it is, nonetheless, all that we need.


  1. I can relate to your comment about food in college... I got food poisioning all of the time from the dorm food and my friends and I all totally ate at 5pm every night. LOL... Sorry that things are rough right now. Wish I could do something to help. Hang in there. Like you said. Take it day by day and you will make it through. Thinking of you. Would love to read Sunday's sermon if you decide to post it. Best Wishes.

  2. Thank you for sharing Mel!!!! And I thank you for your time, service and sacrafice. I have read your blog with the utmost interest since I have a son who is now deployed.
    You are in my prayers daily and I will continue to pray God's Peace & Protection

  3. Beautiful writing and a beautiful heart...