no place like home
Only God in His sovereignty knows
why some soldiers die in war and others live. But two Kansas pastors —
one from an Assemblies of God church, the other a Southern Baptist —
understand that God’s protection over prisoners of war is no accident;
it is an answer to prayer.
Bobby Massey and Ron Pracht first
met 22 years ago when both worked in youth ministry in Wichita. They quickly
became good friends. Today, Massey is pastor of Valley Center Assembly of
God five miles north of Wichita, and Pracht leads Olivet Baptist Church in
Since March 23, the pastors have
received hundreds of e-mails, phone calls and letters from people around the
world describing their concern and offering their prayers for Army Pfc. Patrick
W. Miller. Massey, 40, mentored the soldier during his high school years;
Pracht, 51, led Miller to salvation in Jesus Christ during a premarital counseling
session last year.
The captivity vigil
Miller had been stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas before being sent overseas
with the 507th Maintenance Company last December. In Iraq, members of the
unit cooked meals and fixed vehicles for soldiers in battle.
But on March 23, Iraqi troops in
Nasiriyah ambushed the 507th Maintenance Company when the six-vehicle convoy
took a wrong turn and strayed off course. Nine members of the unit died in
a firefight; five were taken prisoner, along with two Apache helicopter pilots
captured near Karbala on the same day.
After his capture, video footage
on Iraqi TV showed Miller answering questions in a shaky voice, his eyes darting
nervously back and forth between interrogators. Images showed that his wedding
ring and other personal property had been confiscated. The same Iraqi tape
contained grisly images of several dead American troops, shown widely around
the Middle East by the Al-Jazeera news network.
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One of those watching
in the United States was Massey, who as statistician for the local
high school football team became acquainted with Miller seven
years ago. Massey started befriending Valley Center students two
decades ago when he began a 12-year stint as a youth pastor in
town. Massey occasionally ate lunch with Miller, a special teams
player, and his three close gridiron friends. Once in a while
Miller visited a youth service at the church.
Massey sprang into
action March 23 when he learned of Miller’s capture.
I understood that the war had come to our small town,” Massey
told Today’s Pentecostal Evangel. “We needed
to do something about it.” As president of the local ministerial
alliance, he organized a community prayer service for the next
evening at the local United Methodist church, the largest facility
in the town of 5,000.
Townsfolk sang hymns and read Scripture.
Massey closed the service by having the 350 people who had gathered hold hands
across the sanctuary.
“It is a defining moment
for this community that a quiet unassuming man would unite us so loudly,”
Massey said at the service. He assured the crowd that continued prayers would
be heard by a loving and caring God. “We believe for Pat’s safe
return and the day when we will celebrate his safe return together.”
Upon Miller’s capture, his
wife, Jessa, and the couple’s two children — 4-year-old Tyler
and 8-month-old Makenzie — moved back to the Wichita area to be closer
to Jessa’s family.
Members from Olivet Baptist prepared
meals as well as sent flowers and cards to Jessa. Pracht, who has known Jessa
since her birth, had performed the wedding ceremony for the couple in March
2002, two days before Miller left for military training.
Miller’s good friend Tim
Kern visited Jessa and the children frequently and prayed for Miller’s
safe return every night. “I couldn’t be there physically with
him, so I had to be there spiritually,” says Kern, 23.
Another of Miller’s high
school friends organized a campaign in which residents tied yellow ribbons
to trees, fences, streetlights and vehicles as a reminder to keep Miller in
their thoughts. And Christians kept praying.
“When we pray, our confidence
is not in the kindness and generosity of his Iraqi captors,” Pracht
told his congregation. “The Holy God is our hope.”
Palm Sunday release
On Palm Sunday, U.S. Marines — acting on a tip from an Iraqi —
liberated the seven American POWs from a residence just south of Tikrit, a
village three hours north of Baghdad. The prisoners had been moved seven times
in three weeks, blindfolded and under constant surveillance.
Miller, talking to embedded reporters
aboard a transport plane the day of his April 13 release, acknowledged that
he hadn’t been confident about his future.
“I thought they were going
to kill me,” Miller said. “That was the first thing I asked when
they captured me: ‘Are you going to kill me?’ They said no. …
I still didn’t believe them.”
Recounting the rescue, Miller said,
“I was sitting there. Next thing I know the Marines are kicking in the
door, saying get down on the floor. They said, ‘If you’re an American,
stand up.’ We stood up and they hustled us out of there.”
Pracht announced the release that
joyous Palm Sunday morning from the pulpit. “For the good news about
Patrick … let there be great rejoicing,” Pracht told Olivet Baptist
The first service had started at
Valley Center Assembly before the news became official. “Seven POWs
have been rescued, but it is not yet confirmed if Pat is one of them,”
Massey announced. The congregation celebrated, but waited in anticipation
for further news. Halfway through Massey’s sermon, Kern and another
of Miller’s friends, Nathan Requa, burst into the sanctuary.
“It’s him!” Requa
“Our people just began to
celebrate and clap,” Massey recalls. “They were just so excited
After medical treatment and an
intelligence debriefing in Germany, the seven freed POWs landed at Fort Bliss,
Texas, on April 19, the evening before Easter. As the plane taxied along the
tarmac, Miller poked his head through a hatch on the top, holding an American
flag and waving to a cheering crowd of 1,500 colleagues, friends and family
On April 26, Miller received a
hero’s welcome in the Sunflower State. During a halftime ceremony at
the Kansas State University annual football spring scrimmage, Miller thanked
“everybody for all the support they have given me” and urged the
more than 12,000 spectators not to forget the troops still in Iraq plus “those
who died for what we have.”
“This is why we live in the
greatest country in the world,” Miller said in his first public appearance
in Kansas since arriving home. On April 29, Miller told Kansas legislators
he appreciated the prayers said for him during his captivity.
On May 4, the Millers sat in the
front row at the Olivet Baptist Church morning worship service in Wichita.
In a sermon overflowing with thankfulness, Pracht repeatedly reminded Miller
and the congregation of God’s hand in his release.
“We realize it
was only by God’s providence that Pat was protected because
nine of his fellow soldiers were killed in that fight,”
Pracht told Today’s Pentecostal Evangel. “We
can’t figure it out from a human standpoint, but we are
grateful that God protected our friend Pat.”
Hometown rally surprise
On May 10, Massey, with input from the trio of Miller’s football buddies,
Kern, Requa and Rusty Callahan, coordinated a public parade and homecoming
rally for Miller as a way to bring closure to the emotional outpouring the
community had experienced. “It was important to pray and to thank God
that He had answered our prayers,” Massey says.
Massey opened the rally with a
reminder: “When we last prayed together I said we would look forward
to the day we would celebrate Pat Miller’s return,” Massey said.
“I welcome you to that day.”
Kern, Requa and Callahan presented
a plaque to Miller thanking the private for his sacrificial service. “Everybody
has a hero,” Kern says. “My hero is somebody I get to talk to
all the time.”
Although Miller protested vociferously,
Massey — with encouragement from the crowd of 2,000 people — convinced
the returned POW to join his three high school buddies on stage for a rendition
of country music star Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White
& Blue.” Miller had repeatedly sung the patriotic tune, subtitled
“The Angry American,” to his Iraqi captors.
Massey halted the tune in the first
line, saying, “I think it would be better if we got someone who knows
how to sing it.”
Miller watched incredulously as
Keith emerged from the crowd and strode up to the platform to sing the popular
song. The crowd roared whenever Keith stepped back and let Miller sing a few
lines in the song. Miller blinked back tears.
Massey and a handful of others
had kept Keith’s appearance a surprise. Keith drove three hours from
his Oklahoma City-area home for the event. Afterward, Keith presented Miller
with the red, white and blue guitar he had played.
At the celebration, Miller again
asked the crowd to remember the troops still in Iraq.
“We still have people fighting;
people are still going over there,” he said. “Some will come home,
some might not come home. We don’t know yet. So please keep them in
Later in May, the crowd at the
Country Music Awards in Las Vegas cheered Miller and two other POWs invited
on stage. Keith won entertainer of the year at the show.
Faith for the future
The Millers returned to Fort Bliss on May 19 after a 30-day convalescence
the ordeal has had a lasting influence in bolstering the faith
of many in his hometown, including two of Miller’s best
friends. Kern and his mother began coming to Valley Center Assembly
of God services during Miller’s captivity. Requa, along
with his parents and sister, also has started to attend regularly.
Kern credits Massey’s confidence and optimism with helping
him cope during the crisis.
“When your prayers are answered
in a big miracle way like that it really helped me become more of a believer
that Someone is listening,” Kern says.
Pracht believes the POW’s
release will continue to have an impact wherever Miller goes.
“I told Pat that God protected
him for a reason,” Pracht says. “God has a plan for
Pat’s life and He wants to use Pat to tell others about
how good He is.”
W. Kennedy is news editor for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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