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God's love heals the soul, military chaplains agree

This is the final of a 2-part series about United Methodist Chaplains and their dedication to their calling.

Col. Steven Patrick "Pat" McCain, command chaplain for Pacific Air Forces, which covers "52 percent of the earth's surface … from Hollywood to Bollywood," works with chaplains to help meet the spiritual needs of U.S. Air Force personnel and their families.

Before becoming a chaplain, McCain was a local pastor whose parishioners were the first people to encourage him to consider the military. He is a clergy member of the New Mexico Conference.

"There was nothing in me that wanted to join the military. That did not appeal to me at all," McCain said. "Over a period of almost seven years, God really began speaking to me through the parishioners.

"I had a distinct calling in my soul to go into the pastoral ministries. That's why I pursued that calling for seven years. And in that time, I had another specific calling to the military, and it was as real and as vibrant as that first calling."

McCain said he loves being with people, especially those who are young and unchurched, as they figure out where God is working in their lives. "It's a privilege to walk with people on their spiritual journey.

"The military is very different because there are, in many ways, life and death issues," he said. "You're really walking with people at some of the most intimate and important times in their lives. We do all the regular things pastors would do, but you also go to war with folks who are laying their lives on the line. It's really sacred work. For us to bring healing, with a capital 'H,' to their life is a real privilege."

Healing is a focus for Larry Malone, a retired Navy captain and United Methodist layman, who uses his experiences to help wounded veterans find hope.

Malone leads a weekly group at Operation Stand Down Tennessee, an organization that serves honorably discharged veterans.

"For about an hour, we focus on the care of their soul," Malone said. "The ability of a person to be still and quiet and to receive love in that environment … that's what I talk about. Are you really alone when you're in solitude? And if not, who's there? If you want to get to know your soul, you really can't do it unless you're in solitude."

Malone is in the process of publishing an eight-week study tool called "Soul Fit," which he hopes will be implemented in the military to prepare soldiers to deal with the trauma they may face.

"There are simple things that can be done alone and in solitude to know your soul, to become a friend of your soul, to find a presence that's there that loves you," Malone said.

That divine presence of love is Christ, Malone said, but the program he designed does not contain overt evangelism so that it will be more likely to comply with government standards.

Malone said he hopes this tool might help address a critical problem in the veteran community.

"There's an epidemic going on here," Malone said of the veteran suicide rate. "If you put moral injury on top of what were already traumatic events, we are setting people up for what will become a soul wound. It's going to go to a spiritual place, and when it gets there, all the stuff we can throw at this problem that is not spiritual, it can't touch it.

"The one thing that's capable of touching the soul is love, and the love we are talking about is divine. There is no other medicine that is going to be able to heal the soul. This is what heals."

Emily Snell is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.

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