My professor: a chaplain and a pacifist

I apologize (to all three of my regular readers) for the long delay in posting. The past few weeks may have been the busiest of my life. Life as a graduate student and church planter and husband has left no time for blog updates. And though the pace has not yet slowed, I felt the need to keep my commitment to this site. My heart for this blog has always been to provide a place for my friends to reflect on spiritual issues. With that said, let me share a story I heard this week from Dr. William Payne, professor of Evangelism and Mission at Ashland Seminary. 

Dr. Payne, in my opinion, is an impressive man. First, he presently pastors a church and teaches at the seminary. I respect that fact that his work in the academy has not shaken his commitment to leading in the church. He is also very active in world missions. He’s led many international mission projects, planted churches, and, through his service as a military chaplain, worked as a coordinator of humanitarian relief and pastored a church in a Cuban refugee camp. Next month he is leaving his teaching and pastoring roles to return to chaplaincy; he will be in Iraq for a full year. 

Here’s where the story gets wild…Dr. Payne is a pacifist. He opposes violence and war. Though he is granted an armed guard to follow his every move when he is in the field, he chooses not to have one. He understands his position as one to meet the needs of the US servicemen and the “enemy.” In fact, most of his work is with the innocent and unarmed people on the enemy side. Why does he do this? His conviction does not rest in a liberal political ideology but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His allegiance is to the Kingdom of God first and foremost. So he ministers to and preaches the Gospel to both sides. 

This commitment has almost killed him twice. Here is the story of one of those times. He was working with Cubans in a refugee camp, serving as a pastor in the camp. In the middle of a baptismal service, where Cubans who had just made commitments to follow Jesus were to be baptized, a small band of rebel soldiers tried to take Dr. Payne captive in order to gain leverage with the American military. They were going to take him hostage and make demands that, if not met, would result in his death. But just as this group of men came into the camp, the Cubans in his congregation circled around him. They wouldn’t let the rebels in. They chose to defend their brother in Christ over their countrymen. With him in the middle, they moved the circle toward a makeshift jail cell that resembled a cage. They locked him in the cage so that the rebels couldn’t kidnap him. When the bad guys gave up and left, his congregants unlocked him and he finished the baptismal service. 

Most likely there were some who surrounded him who had only been Christians for a few hours or even minutes. Here is what strikes me: these Cubans understood the Kingdom of God in a way that I don’t yet.

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8 thoughts on “My professor: a chaplain and a pacifist

  1. mark says:

    apology accepted. needless to say, i think thats pretty incredible.

  2. chad says:

    that’s cool man. my thoughts drift toward his sife and family. that’s quite a sacrifice for both his life and his family’s.

  3. matthewjmcclure says:

    Chad- I thought of his family as well. I know that his children are out of the house, but I am sure it will be difficult for his wife. Perhaps he will be able to come back to visit family a time or two over the next year.

    Your comment raises a great question. At what cost do we engage in the mission of God? Do we truly allow God to set the parameters of our willingness to follow Him? Do our roles as husbands and, in some cases fathers, have to be at odds with our role as missionaries and Kingdom workers?

  4. Amanda Miller says:

    wow that story is incredible. I’m also a follower of your blog, so that may make 4 people. its definitely cool to hear what about what is going on spiritually and to hear about how the church plant is going on in Kent.

  5. Eric Asp says:

    Great to see you posting again, Matt. And this post in particular. I had not thought about the family aspect of Dr. Payne’s ministry (since you didn’t allude to it within the post)… But to me this is a very relevant question.

    I personally have come to believe that a man’s ministry must start in his home — his wife and his children must be his first ministry, and “ministry” outside the home must be second. And if it should happen the family should “impede ministry” for a season of life, then so be it. I still have to figure out how 1 Corinthians chapter 7 fits into this view… But I see it clearly in other sections of Scripture (especially in the book of 1 Timothy), and I feel that God has reinforced this in my own heart as well. Not that someone else might have a different conviction — but that’s where I’ve ended up in the matter…

    I’d be curious to hear what Dr. Payne himself would have to say about the family aspect of things…

  6. Jason says:

    Great post, Matt! I hope your time with Dr. Payne today is insightful.

  7. Jeremy says:

    I only have questions and very few answers as far as the family versus “ministry” thing, although I’ve been in/witnessed quite a few heated debates in relation to it. I find it fascinating though that it is often more appropriate to question one serving kingdom who leaves and or risks his/her family for a time than to question one serving country. Regardless, I am impressed and moved by Dr. Payne’s compassion towards those in the military as well as those of whom are deemed the enemy.

  8. Jeremy says:

    By the way, I’m joining the blog club.

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