In the past two years Army chaplain Chris Rice has baptized more than 1,000 soldiers who have come through Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, for basic training. His road to serving members of the U.S. Armed Services, however, wound through a few twists and turns.
“Everybody in my family, straight out of high school, has served in the military going back to the Civil War,” Rice said.
But when Rice sensed a call to ministry he forsook a career in the military and attended a small Baptist college then Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, for his graduate studies.
For 11 years Rice ministered to different congregations across North America, and while in Georgia in 2008 he decided to pray Jabez’s prayer from 1 Chronicles 4:10.
He sensed God leading him to resign from his church in anticipation of what God would do. Military chaplaincy consistently showed up in job searches and time spent in prayer along with conversations with his wife pointed too clearly to the opportunity.
When Rice signed up as a Southern Baptist chaplain he joined a network of more than 3,700 chaplains who serve in the United States’ governmental, public services and private organizational settings.
His arrival at the South Carolina base came after previous assignments at Fort Stewart in Georgia and overseas in Germany. Rice deployed numerous times to locations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey.
When he arrived at Fort Jackson, Rice’s superiors immediately asked him to take over the basic training Protestant service. He agreed.
On his first Sunday they had just under 500 soldiers, but Rice knew that was well under the number they could reach with the service. Now attendance has more than doubled.
“I am constantly challenging them to make spiritual maturity just as much a priority as their physical development, emotional development and mental development,” Rice said.
A number of trainees share with Rice that they wonder whether or not God can love or forgive them because of the things they have done and he invites them to the chapel service and counsels afterwards.
He presents the gospel. If they believe or have never been baptized before Rice offers the chance to follow through with their commitment through baptism. He reviews the details with all who ask, letting them know what baptism is, what it symbolizes and who should be baptized.
The baptisms at Fort Jackson help to underscore what many see as a spiritual movement taking place in the lives of young people within the military.
Rice is quick to direct all credit to God.
“It’s all about God. It’s what God is doing. He is doing a work,” Rice said. “God is not dead. He is continuously moving in the hearts and minds of people and He uses people to advance His glory and His Kingdom.” (BP)