by Karen Fliedner, Managing Editor
Exceptionally demanding—that is the four-year journey through one of our nation’s military service academies, deliberately designed as such to forge finely tuned military leaders from out of the fires of continual challenge. Cadets and midshipmen juggle jam-packed schedules that stretch them beyond the max physically, emotionally, mentally. And spiritually.
These young men and women are preparing for lives of service and sacrifice as military officers to their country, a nation whose society is increasingly drifting off course into the ocean of moral compromise, severed from its Christian moorings.
Knowing full well the ever-increasing difficulties our nation’s future leaders are facing, four couples provide OCF presence at the U.S. Military, Naval, Air Force and Coast Guard academies as field staff reps. These couples—Tom and Cheri Austin, Bryan and Sherri Burt, Steve and Rita Wade, and Hank Teuton, along with his late wife, Betsy—and their teams have responded to God’s call, Here am I. Send me! And share the good news of Jesus Christ by selflessly pouring into the lives and souls of these budding military leaders.
USMA OCF’s Tom Austin and USNA OCF’s Bryan Burt, themselves graduates of the same academies they now serve, both became Christians via the OCF Bible studies and activities they attended as undergraduates. And both men were impacted by OCF’s conference center ministry by speaker Jim Wilson whose gospel message stirred Bryan at White Sulphur Springs, and Tom and Cheri at Spring Canyon, on their first vacation as a married couple. Cheri’s OCF legacy goes back to when her parents, CH(LTC) Russell and Lois Stroup, USA, hosted Dr. Bob Smith and C.N. Tokatloglou (Mr. Tok).
Both men have participated in God’s kingdom work through OCF by leading and coordinating Bible studies wherever assigned during active duty, and holding varied OCF leadership positions. Tom’s OCF resume includes ROACT Council, and USMA and USAFA ministry teams with Cheri, while Bryan served on OCF Council, and along with Ward Graham and Eric Robyn on several Regional Training Conferences.
Ministry in the highly charged academy life world involves scores of activities, including Bible studies, mentoring and discipling, and retreats, mission trips and mission trips. Abundant portions of fellowship, food and fun freely flow through the ministry settings of USNA’s Maranatha Mansion and USMA’s Fellowship House.
Tom Austin, Bryan Burt, and their USAFA and USCGA counterparts’ collective ministry efforts rely heavily on their faithful teams of volunteers to make ministry happens. Such “force multipliers,” as Tom calls them, are also long serving, such as Dr. R. David and Mary Ann Hampton, whose fifteen years of service includes the USMA OCF tenures of Mike Tesdahl and Barry Willey, as well as Tom.
These dedicated team members of active duty and retired military and civilians-more than thirty-five at both USMA and USNA-who come alongside in support of the OCF field staff at the academies, are spurred by “the love of Christ,” compelling them to share “the hope that lies within them, ‘” said Tom. They help in a variety of ways, including leading Bible studies, mentoring, and other events, such retreats, activity nights, mission trips, etc.
Key components of those ministry teams are also cadet and midshipmen leaders, guided by their experienced officer mentors who advise, assist, and teach them as they lead their peers. At USNA, said Bryan, “the midshipmen leadership team is formed around battalion teams that work together to pray for and seek opportunities to serve their fellow midshipmen within Bancroft Hall.” And the impact is formidable, for as Tom observes of the USMA cadet leaders, “The first classers greatly influence their peers as servant leaders, and help others come to Christ or grow in their faith.”
Each person comprising the ministry teams, “brings a different personality and faith story to the table. As the officers share their experiences in the Army and how they apply their faith in Christ, they are casting a vision for service and faithfulness to the next generation, ” said Tom.
“They are so faithful in their selfless service to these young men and women, modeling and exemplifying what it means to be a Christian throughout their lives,” said Bryan. “We couldn’t do it without them!”
One of your ministry’s most moving moments?
Burt: Despite the culture shock of being one of the few Christians, one of our midshipmen studying at a Middle East university this semester has drawn strength from God’s preparation for him through USNA OCF. Stepping out in faith, he leads a Bible study with other exchange students, praying that in addition to encouraging one another, they will also shine the light of Christ on those around them.
Austin: Seeing what OCF does, connecting people for life! A couple years ago one of our senior girls led a group of plebes at our Tuesday night Bible study, and frequently met with each one outside of class. She would listen to their plebe year woes, record prayer requests, share Scripture, and bring them treats. And she’s continued, even sending them encouraging cards and packages from Afghanistan while deployed. That core group is now leading plebe studies, excited about doing for these girls what this lieutenant did for them
Your advice for getting involved in the ministry of OCF?
Burt: Look around, see where God is at work, and join Him there. Conduct your own Pray, Discover and Obey, and be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit shows you in the ways you should minister with the military. And then do it.
Austin: Keep your contact information updated with the OCF home office so that we can network more easily. It really helps our new officers to link up at their next post with another officer in OCF.
Burt: As a midshipman, when I was asking questions about who Jesus Christ was and why He was important to my life, two OCFers thought enough of me to invite me to an OCF retreat at White Sulphur Springs. There Jim Wilson shared the good news of Jesus Christ and how I could know Him as my Savior and Lord. This retreat changed my life for eternity. Since then as a Christian, I have followed Jesus Christ and been involved with the OCF ministry.
Austin: OCF follows you out into the Army, unlike the other Christian clubs in a college. It will be a connection we can help you make to BOLC (Basic Course) and then the first assignment.”