by MAJ Douglas V. Mastriano, USA
“Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest'” (Matt. 9:37-38 RSV).
A base theater is jammed with 252 people to hear Christian rock bands Damask Rose and Joy Electric. The bands use their musical talents to deliver the gospel. The crowd includes soldiers (officers & enlisted) and family members, half of whom are not believers.
During the intermission, a chaplain takes the stage, presents the Gospel and offers an invitation to accept Jesus. Meanwhile, fifteen volunteers from Fort Stewart’s Vale Chapel perform an array of “duties” in support of the event — everything from greeting the concert attendees to preparing and serving free cappuccinos. The event is called Petra Cafe and occurs monthly at Fort Stewart.
Petra Cafe is sponsored by the chapel and is designed to reach the “unreachable” in our military community. Petra is Arabic for rock, which represents Jesus Christ. The concept is to bring in contemporary Christian bands to present the gospel to our service members (and their families) while free food and beverages are provided. Funded by the chapel, the event is free. It was one soldier’s idea. An OCF officer, a dozen military and family members, and a chaplain made it happen.
Petra Cafe is reaching thousands in our military community at the Presidio of Monterey, Fort Stewart and soon Maxwell AFB. Over 2,000 attended the first eleven cafes at Fort Stewart, while 2,600 participated in the first eight months of cafes at the Presidio of Monterey.
The startling thing about the cafe is that half of those who attend are not Christians. In the various cafe events, there have been rededications and first time commitments to Jesus Christ– reaping a harvest for the kingdom.
At Petra Cafe the gospel is delivered in a contemporary manner. The bands are focused on reaching members of the X generation with a loud, clear message. However, the cafe could not happen without the military chapel. And the chapel cannot support it without the active involvement of Christian leaders. Petra Cafe is one of many outreach opportunities that could impact the military community, if only the local chapel had the laborers needed to support the mission.
In OCF we are enjoined to ” . . . minister effectively in the military society.” Being a part of the chapel family provides us with opportunities to minister effectively to those with whom we work and deploy. However, the contrast between civilian churches and the military chapel can be significant, making the decision on where to fellowship difficult.
Civilian churches often provide an exciting worship experience along with established outreach and family programs. Chapels usually have small congregations and few outreach ministries. But, the reason for chapel shortcomings usually rests with us. If more Christians supported the command chapel program, it could also have dynamic programs and outreach opportunities.
If you want to conduct outreaches that impact your unit, you need the chapel. Location and command “sponsorship” are the vital links. The chapel is not only strategically located where the troops are but also carries with it the authority of the command. The chapel is the spiritual center for unit-wide outreach.
Officers make a decisive impact upon their units. The chapel is the only church body that is a part of the unit. Since it is part of the command, officers can enthusiastically support events that it conducts.
Another noteworthy dynamic occurs when an officer attends chapel. Usually it is not long before a number of that leader’s troops also attend. However, if that same leader attends a local church, few soldiers usually follow.
The Chapel Challenge
The challenge is to dedicate your prayers, time, and gifts to build your local chapel into something that makes a difference for the kingdom. Instead of complaining that the chapel does not have the programs or outreaches that you and your family want/need, do something about it. Sit down with the chaplain. You will be surprised by the results.
My family used to worship and fellowship at local churches. However, a few years ago, upon arriving at a new duty location, God used a chaplain to make it clear that He wanted us involved in the chapel. This chaplain was a strong advocate of the chapel. He explained that there was no better way to impact the military community for Christ than through the command chapel program.
Committing yourself to the chapel is not always easy. An example occurred at one chapel. The congregation had twelve people (half of which were the chaplain’s family) and the service was dead. My wife and I prayed through an extensive list of changes we wanted to see in the chapel. Item by item, God began to answer, and within a few months He transformed the chapel. He raised up a handful of dedicated Christians in the congregation and brought in a chaplain who wanted to reach the military for Jesus. It was not long before the congregation grew to over 100. From these, God raised up a ten-member praise band to lead worship, a full-fledged choir, and an array of relevant ministries to reach the lost in our community. One outreach that came out of this small revival was Petra Cafe.
The chapel is strategically located on base and is the spiritual center for outreach to those with whom we work and serve. There is no better way to make an impact upon your organization than through your command chapel program. There is no other church body better situated to impact your unit for the kingdom.
Selecting the right place to worship is a serious matter and is a de facto commitment of your gifts and time to build that portion of the Christian body. This article is not designed to cast judgment upon anyone fellowshipping outside of the chapel family. Where you fellowship is between you and God. However, my plea is that you prayerfully consider being a part of the chapel family.
MAJ Douglas V. Mastriano (USA) recently completed an assignment at Fort Stewart, GA, as the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) Artillery S2 (Intelligence Officer) and is now attending the Air Command & Staff College at Maxwell AFB, AL. He resides in Alabama with his wife, Rebecca, and son, Josiah. For further information on Petra Cafe, please contact: [email protected]