AG congregation invites soldiers to church
By Christina Quick
As Americans make plans to celebrate our nation’s freedom, a
church in Columbus, Ga., is celebrating the people who continue to fight for
freedom around the world.
For the past three years, Evangel Temple Assembly of God has
bused hundreds of Army troops from nearby Fort Benning for a special military
appreciation service the Sunday before Independence Day.
Bud Rupel, an associate pastor at the church, keeps a stack
of letters from soldiers who have attended the service and written to express
their appreciation. They serve as a poignant reminder of the impact this event
has on soldiers, the majority of whom are eventually deployed to Iraq.
One young man who asked the church to continue to pray for
him wrote: “The sermon really relieved my worries about going to war as the
pastor said, ‘The Lord knows what is best, and He is always on your side
through thick and thin.’ ”
As a retired Army chaplain, Rupel is familiar with the
stresses of military life and understands how uplifting a kind gesture can be.
“I spent 28 years in the military,” Rupel says. “I know how
important it is to get that morale boost.”
The church goes out of its way to honor the special
visitors. As the convoy of buses arrives, congregants line the street to greet
the troops with cheers and waving flags. A banner outside the building reads,
Following the service, the troops are treated to a bountiful
meal, complete with a large selection of homemade desserts.
Fort Benning is an infantry installation. Most of the
approximately 300 men who accept the invitation to church are enlistees
completing basic training in preparation for assignments in Iraq. Many are
still in their teens.
The young soldiers are often moved at the outpouring of
support. Some choke back tears. Others remark it is the first time anyone has
thanked them for their willingness to serve the country.
Rupel says because the soldiers are constantly exposed to
criticism regarding the war in Iraq, positive gestures mean a lot.
“It’s not a popular war,” Rupel says. “The troops don’t get
a lot of good feedback or thanks. The church needs to step to the forefront and
say, ‘We appreciate what you’re doing.’ ”
One soldier wrote: “Seeing your congregation lined up along
the street awaiting our arrival was very uplifting. The whole service touched
my heart and revitalized my soul.”
Another infantryman said in a letter: “To be able to get
away for an afternoon and enjoy a church service like that was a real blessing
The patriotic service includes a video and a musical tribute
to the Armed Forces, followed by a sermon with a special military emphasis.
This year’s speaker is Zollie Smith, a Vietnam veteran and the director of
Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.
“Churches are in a position to make a significant impact in
America by responding to the human need of our soldiers and their families,”
Smith says. “The unique trials and tribulations of military life push these
men, women and children to their limit. Through the support of the local
church, however, they can know the peace that passes understanding and
experience the love of Christ in their own lives.”
Scott McChrystal, military/VA representative for the
Chaplaincy Department of the Assemblies of God, says he was impressed by the
church’s efforts when he spoke at the event in 2006.
“Evangel Temple’s outreach to the soldiers at Fort Benning
is strategic,” McChrystal says. “Year after year, they present the gospel
message in tangible form — through worship, proclamation, food,
fellowship and kindness. The Holy Spirit uses these efforts to transform the
lives of many of these young patriots.”
The service always includes an invitation to receive Christ
as Savior. Last year, nearly half of the soldiers in attendance responded.
“These soldiers are in a dangerous business,” Rupel says.
“They will face a lot of stuff we can’t even imagine. Our goal is not only to say,
‘Thank you,’ but also to give them an opportunity to accept Christ and get
things right with God. We have received letters from soldiers and parents from
all over the country thanking us for doing that.”
A mom in Wisconsin last year e-mailed the church to express
“We owe your congregation a debt of gratitude,” the woman
wrote. “I have been touched that you as strangers would give such a gift to
The soldiers who accept Evangel Temple’s invitation to the
service are brought to church on military buses. The church pays the cost of
the transportation. Some of the young men later return to church, though few
are able to stay long before they are deployed.
The church is active in reaching out to members of the
military throughout the year, sending letters and care packages to troops and
ministering to their families.
Rahel Wing, who has attended Evangel Temple for two years,
says her faith is what allows her to cope with her husband’s deployment in
Iraq. Before becoming a Christian, she struggled with anxiety. Now, she says,
she finds peace in her relationship with Christ and in the network of support
the church provides.
“It’s so important to be connected with people who share
your beliefs and values, with people who won’t judge you for having a bad day
and will lift you up in a minute with a simple whisper of Scripture,” Wing
CHRISTINA QUICK is staff writer for Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Refrigerator Art (cquick.agblogger.org).
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