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In Honduras, chaplains find unique ways to serve
Mickey Noah, Baptist Press
July 18, 2011
6 MIN READ TIME

In Honduras, chaplains find unique ways to serve

In Honduras, chaplains find unique ways to serve
Mickey Noah, Baptist Press
July 18, 2011

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras

— While scores of Southern Baptist military chaplains minister to U.S.

troops in Iraq

and Afghanistan,

others are serving faithfully in other hot spots, often in isolated regions.

In the mountainous heart of Honduras,

for example, where the four military branches work together in drug

interdiction, Chaplain (Maj.) Dan Thompson and Chaplain (Capt.) Paul Cartmill

serve some 500 soldiers who are part of Joint Task Force-Bravo located at Soto

Cano Air Base near Comayagua.

Even though enemy fire may not be as prevalent as in the war on terrorism in

the Middle East, the troops in Honduras

are on the front lines of efforts to stem the rising tide of illicit drugs

entering the United States

— tantamount to another attack against the U.S.,

but much closer to home.

Thompson, 38, has served as a chaplain since 1996, first in the Navy and now in

the Air Force. His military service began as an enlisted Marine. He’s halfway

through a six-month deployment to Honduras

from Germany,

where he’s stationed and where his wife Erica and their three children are now

based.

“Even though we don’t have bullets flying over our heads, it’s still important

to make worship services and Bible study available to our military,” Thompson

said. “My vision is to enrich the spiritual fitness of Joint Task Force-Bravo,

providing opportunities for our people to come to worship and study the Bible —

just as they could outside the military.”

Villagers in El Paraiso, Honduras, receive donated food and school supplies from U.S. military personnel led by Chaplain (Major) Dan Thompson, a Southern Baptist Air Force chaplain deployed as part of the drug-interdiction Joint Task Force-Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras.

Many of the soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines in Honduras

are veterans of one or more tours of duty in Iraq

or Afghanistan.

Although still on active duty, Soto Cano Air Base is a place where they can

unwind and decompress from the rigors, tough conditions, bad memories and

dangers of the Middle East war zones.

“There’s still a lot of hardship…. It’s still hard to deal with the

counseling load,” Thompson said. “The men and women still have a lot of

spiritual needs … facing post-traumatic stress syndrome from Iraq

and Afghanistan.”

Thompson and Cartmill preach, teach and counsel as well as baptize new

believers in the base swimming pool.

And they extend their faith to remote Honduran villagers.

Thompson and 120 other Joint Task Force-Bravo personnel spent a Saturday in

June strapping on 40-pound backpacks of food and school supplies to hike two

miles up the mountains where so many poor Hondurans live in isolated villages.

The troops — males and females dressed in civilian hiking clothes — hiked up to

the tiny village of El Paraiso (means “paradise”) with 160 backpacks of food,

with some of the soldiers carrying three or four backpacks.

The backpacks contained dry food items such as beans, rice and other staples

for about 800 meals, Thompson said.

“These people have nothing and are truly starving,” said Thompson, who had

already scouted out the village and talked to village leaders in advance to

determine how much food would be needed and which families needed it most.

Supported by chaplain assistant Brandon Jones and his Honduran-born secretary

and interpreter, Maria Santos, Thompson’s group used El Paraiso’s local chapel

as the food distribution site, attracting lines of grateful villagers.

“I can’t describe how beautiful it was on the top of this mountain in El

Paraiso,” Thompson recalled. “It is a paradise … untouched, green and lush.

“While most of us didn’t speak Spanish, Maria translated for us. But the

language of love can communicate across cultural barriers,” Thompson said,

mentioning that El Paraiso is only one of 20 villages they hike to several

times a year to deliver food and school supplies.

The El Paraiso hiking team was the largest group yet for the bi-monthly chapel

hike, Thompson said. “It was also the largest amount of money we’ve ever raised

for a hike and the most families we’ve ever been able to provide for.” All

ranks from Joint Task Force-Bravo chipped in nearly $1,700 for the food. A

portion of the money also was spent on school supplies and two piñatas for the

village’s children.

“I’m told that the children are not permitted to go to school unless they have

their school supplies,” Thompson said. “If the kids can’t go to school, that

means the parents can’t go to work, so it’s critical that we help them.” Most

of the parents subsist on meager incomes from area coffee plantations.

Thompson is a native of DeLand, Fla.,

and Florida State

graduate who hold a master’s degree and doctorate from Southern Baptist

Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

His fellow chaplain in Honduras,

Capt. Paul Cartmill, missed the recent hike because he was attending the

Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix,

where he was commissioned by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as a new chaplain.

“It’s through the faithful prayer support and encouragement we get from

Southern Baptists and the North American Mission Board that inspires us to move

forward,” Thompson said. “It’s the little things — like getting emails on our

birthdays — that really matter.”

Representing the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board

has more than more than 1,300 endorsed SBC chaplains

in the military, which requires that all of its chaplains be endorsed and

qualified by a recognized denomination. In all, 3,400 NAMB-commissioned and

endorsed chaplains are ministering in the military, healthcare institutions,

corporations and in public safety.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)