Last night I was at the barracks of the 16th Air Assault Brigade in Colchester. I was invited (along with lots of other people) to a presentation about the Brigade’s recent deployment to Afghanistan. I wondered what I was going to. It was entitled ‘Military Operational Presentation’ and I was not sure whether it would involve lots of marching and bands or would be the military equivalent of ‘show and tell’ or ‘what I did on my holidays’.
It was excellent. We heard from a wide range of different soldiers about the impact of the deployment, the range of activities undertaken and the strategies employed. We also met a squad of soldiers (in full kit) who told us about their roles in a normal daily patrol. What was inspiring was hearing how the soldiers were working with and alongside the Afghan people to help them establish a new paradigm: one in which fear of the Taliban was replaced by self-determination and respect. Like most people I have had a picture in my mind of daily gun battles and explosions in the Helmand Province (where the 16 AAB were deployed). I had created an image where every person who lived in that region was a Taliban sympathiser or supporter.
Instead we were told of how almost all Afghanis want the Taliban out but had lived in fear of intimidation and attack. By standing up to the Taliban and training Aghan police and troops to establish a safe living environment the indigenous population is recovering its confidence and self-belief. Alongside this is a programme to rebuild infrastructure, establish schools and businesses and enable local governance free from corruption or oppression. It’s not as heroic as gun battles or assaults, but it makes a bigger and longer-lasting impact.
I have long been uncomfortable with the ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ approach to the Christian faith in which we are in a constant battle and need to strive towards victory. I am not saying that there is not a threat from the ‘opposition’ but I do feel that some Christians overplay it. Military metaphors make me feel uncomfortable when Jesus said that we should love our enemies. Perhaps we need to learn a lesson from the military in Afghanistan. Rather than going in all guns blazing we should be seeking to win ‘hearts and minds’ with our approach to other people. Jesus’ mission question: “What would you like me to do for you?” is a great way to start.
On Monday this week I met with people from other churches in the town to see if we can make a more coordinated approach to serving our town and communities. It was so encouraging to have a common vision and desire to serve and bless our town by being and sharing good news.
Jeremiah’s message from God to the people in exile was:
Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. (Jeremiah 29:6-8)
They were encouraged to settle down but to seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Blessing where we live not only blesses us but demonstrates the nature of God to the people around us.
Be blessed. Be a blessing.
Admiral Greaves-Brown was in charge of the Navy, and he was visiting his colleague General Marshall, who was in charge of the Army. Greaves-Brown arrives at the military camp and is greeted by Marshall. They both walk around the place, and Greaves-Brown asks: “So how are your men?”
“Very well trained, Admiral.”
“I hope so. You see, my men over at the Navy are so well trained, you could see they’re the bravest men all over the country.”
“Well, my men are very brave, too.”
“I’d like to see that.”
So Marshall calls Private Johnson and says: “Private Johnson! I want you to stop that tank coming here with your body!”
“Are you crazy? It’d kill me, you idiot! I’m out of here!” As private Johnson ran away, Marshall turned to a bewildered Greaves-Brown and said:
“You see? You have to be pretty brave to talk like that to a General.”