No one has to live at Fort Irwin long to realize the desert is a desolate place. In fact, I’m told spouses entering the post have a ‘what have we done,’ (I’ve said it kindly) moment when they crest the hill coming in the first time. Yes, the desert is desolate. In the box reveals a very harsh environment. Windblown, dry, barren, empty, seemingly void of life.
In this harsh place we call home, there is, however, many beautiful sites and often a surprising amount of wildlife. The sunrise and sunsets are amazing, small critters scurry along the path, and other larger animals made this place their home and in fact, thrive.
You must look for the beauty.
The desert is an excellent allegory for our personal lives. There are times when our lives are barren, dry, and even desolate. Our hearts can become desolate by the situations, struggles, and choices we have made. The end result may leave us feeling dry, dusty, and barren.
When asked to write a piece regarding ministry in the box, I was immediately taken to the New Testament of the Sacred Text, Matthew 14:13-21. In the story of Christ feeding the 5,000 we find ministry in the box. We see many people, searching for something often without knowing what they are truly looking for. We see little food, we don’t see water, and we read the need was great.
Christ had received some very hard news. His cousin John had been beheaded. Following this, we read he has gone to the desolate place. The box. As I drive out either to work at the Brigade or in preparation to search for a Battalion Chaplain, I realize I am driving to a desolate place both physically and for many emotionally or spiritually. Guess what? I have to look for the beauty and find places and ways to minister. This is ministry in the box.
In my role as OC/T, there are abounding opportunities for me to minister. The Executive Officer or XO, is always overtired, under rested, and hasn’t eaten enough. On a recent rotation, the XO was a dear friend I had attended Command Staff and General College together. This was an excellent time to minister to his personal needs.
The desert and the rotation reveal a great deal about a person’s character, strength, patience and any possible personal issues. Each rotation has provided a place for me to pray for, encourage and strengthen someone who is struggling, often it is a leader.
Continuing to look for beauty, there are times when conversation is rich on the OC line as conversations revolve around the physical and the spiritual. We are all spiritual beings and yet this can easily be overshadowed by our work while the eternal, unseen is forgotten.
As a Chaplain, I find I must look for ways to minister. Most won’t and can’t stop what they are doing to have a service, but most all will pause for a prayer, a devotion, or to receive communion and I leave their space so much richer for having ‘found’ beauty in this desolate place.