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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

AGTV Video
Connections: Joseph Gibilisco

Serving God and Country

Chaplain Joseph Gibilisco began his military career with the Marines in Vietnam. The now lieutenant colonel in the United States Army has already retired once and received the Army’s highest lifetime service award. Gibilisco also holds a Ph.D. in biblical counseling and, in his return to active duty, is the family life chaplain at Fort Lee, Va. Editor Ken Horn and Pastor Care Director Gary Allen, who served as a Navy chaplain for 30 years, recently spoke with Gibilisco about his lifelong calling.

evangel: What was life like in the Marines in Vietnam, and what was the path that brought you into the chaplaincy?
I was running from God when I was in the Marine Corps. I had a sense of the call of God on my life ever since I was 5 years old. It was during my tour in Vietnam that the call of God became so intense that while I was there I recommitted and said, “Lord, I will go into the ministry.” When I returned from Vietnam, I said yes unequivocally to the Lord and His Word and to preach His Word. I was ordained in 1978.

evangel: When you were called into the ministry, did you know immediately that you were going to be a chaplain?
Oddly enough, in a speech class in high school, I gave a speech as a chaplain who came back after 10 years to a homecoming reunion. I spoke about my 10 years of imaginary service, but in the speech I was an Air Force chaplain. Even at the early stages of my senior year in high school, it was ingrained in my heart and mind that God called me to be a chaplain.

evangel: Tell us about your Army chaplaincy.
I came into the chaplaincy right out of pastoring an Assemblies of God church in Florida. My first couple of years I was surprised to notice that I was counseling all the time. It was never like that as a pastor. Only a few of my parishioners would occasionally seek me out for counseling.

My first assignment, I was stationed with the 101st Airborne Division. Soldiers would make their way to my office, and I would sense that I did not have many skills. God, in His mercy, helped me to train myself at first. In 1989, the Army selected me to go to Kansas State University to get a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. It was a turning point in my career.

evangel: It seems counseling is what blossomed in your ministry. You actually designed and opened the Family Life Chaplain Training Center at Fort Hood, Texas, and since then have trained a lot of chaplains in counseling.
I was at the right place at the right time, and the general there really supported this. At the time, the Army needed a second training facility. We developed a curriculum. We developed a way in which we could use the best of all the psychological, marriage and family therapy tools with an integrated model. We brought the biblical, spiritual and psychological elements together so that chaplains could go from there and provide ministry. The Army sees family life chaplains as those who provide care for other caregivers, not just for soldiers.

evangel: What are you able to do in those counseling sessions?
We can diagnose and label. We can describe the problem. But I think soldiers are also wondering about questions like What is that spiritual side of me that needs help? What is that part of me that God can speak to? Does God have a purpose in my life? We’re not providing just psychological counseling. I really do believe that people are looking for the spiritual core to their situation.

evangel: You had a great honor paid to you when you were given the Army’s highest award, the Legion of Merit. What were the circumstances of receiving that, and how did you feel when you received it?
I did not feel worthy. I still don’t to this day. The Legion of Merit is an end-of-career, retirement award. They take the last 10 years of your service and summarize it with a last award.

The work that I accomplished by training chaplains to be family life chaplains was like a ministry multiplier. If you train one chaplain to provide ministry, quality ministry, then you’re multiplying that ministry to so many others — soldiers, chaplains, family members who are suffering.

The center at Fort Hood is in its 11th year now. My design was to have it last for at least 10 years. It is considered today to be the premier training center. But it was God. God brought the right people together, the right set of circumstances, and I happened to be there. The confluence of circumstances in advance creates these wonderful opportunities, and we’ve got to be obedient and say, “Yes, Lord. I’ll follow what You have asked me to do.”

evangel: In 2001 you retired. You were the chief operating officer of the Peninsular Florida District of the Assemblies of God, a contract chaplain with the Air Force and a prison chaplain. You’ve also been involved in Teen Challenge and a number of other things. What has happened since you retired, and why were you asked to come out of retirement?
It’s hard for me to sit by when I know God has called me. So I said, “Lord, whatever comes my way, I will serve You as those opportunities open.” And many of them did in retirement.

When my job as a contract chaplain for the Air Force was done, I started to work for the Assemblies of God district office in Lakeland. My home is in Florida, and I lived about 20 miles from the district office. But one day my phone rang. It was the Pentagon. They asked me if I would consider returning out of retirement to active duty to work with families.

This is a long war. Our soldiers need family life chaplains, and we had a shortage of family life chaplains. We still have a small shortage. Of course, my wife and I prayed about this, and we both felt this may be God’s direction for us. I’ve been on active duty now for two years, and I have one more year on this set of orders.

evangel: Do you see anything on the horizon beyond next year of where God wants you to go and what He wants you to do?
Life is a surprise, and I just want to let God surprise me.


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