Dear Hope Family,
Greetings in the Name of Jesus! I want to thank you for your ongoing support and care; I miss you all.
I can’t believe it has been so long since I served in Florida, and you may recall that I was slated to go on a mobilization to Africa. My number came up again, and I am now deployed to Africa. God sure is funny!
As I begin this letter, I want to walk a fine line: I don’t mean to complain one bit, nor do I wish to make this duty sound like a walk in the park. I want to share what I can as straightforward as possible, because we are in this deployment together. It means so much to me to preach the Gospel of Jesus to the men and women of our military.
As I write this, I have been in Djibouti for a month. Before that I had spent two weeks in Norfolk VA, three weeks outside Columbia SC, all in preparation for this mobilization duty. In the time here, I have experienced a great turnover: The outgoing command chaplain has given me his best to explain the command, the people, the process, systems and the way ministry is done. He’s a fine chaplain and just so happened to be Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
I have now taken command over the many duties and responsibilities I will have in my time here. As the command chaplain, I have two junior chaplains and two Religious Program Specialists. There are many other commands here at the camp, and there another five chaplains that I collaborate with from both the Army and Navy. The Air Force chaplain visits on an “as needed” basis, but isn’t based here because we don’t have a golf course. A golf course.
Djibouti is very, very hot. But thankfully, we are in the cool season now, so I will have more time to acclimate before it is really hot here. It’s lows in the mid 80s and highs in the low 100s. Again, that is the cool season. But my office and chapel and my living quarters are all air conditioned, so that’s great! The office and chapel are older structures that were constructed by Navy Construction Battalion 20 years ago and were meant to be expeditionary (temporary) but despite being small and no plumbing, it meets our needs fairly well. I live in a CLU (closed living unit, which is pretty catchy if you ask me) and it is roughly 10 feet wide and 12 feet tall. The plus side is I have internet and NO roommate. So it is home away from home. I share a bathroom with the other 30 men on my floor. They win!
We have a DFAC (dining facility, again a darn tootin’ catchy name) and the food is very good. It’s no Whataburger, but it’ll do. There is also a Navy Exchange, which is a little shopping store for food, hygiene items and the like. We also have a few fast food places on the camp, but I’ve not had any of that stuff. There are two really great gyms, so I get the chance to work out often. There is also recreational programs and facilities where you can read, surf the internet, watch movies, play games, etc. The USO and the Red Cross have strong support programs here.
The chapel program is blest to have a traditional service, a modern service, a Catholic service, and a number of other programs and volunteer opportunities. We work with an organization called “Friends of Africa” and we do an amazing 8 Community Relation Events off base EVERY week. I hope to go on a few of them very soon and take pictures for you to see how we help with teaching English, caring for the needy, and even helping at a wildlife refuge. I am including a picture of Ethiopian children playing foosball with me.
I am on the Camp side of things, if I were a different command here, I wouldn’t be able to speak much about what I was doing. Everything that I have shared and will share is cleared by a public relations section and is available readily on the internet in public forums like youtube, etc. That being said, I am not posting on social media very much, but it’s perfectly fine for you to interact with me as you normally would.
In this environment, I work six and half days a week, which is normal. Not much down time, but there are many folks here in need of the Gospel of Jesus and I am in the perfect position to share. Our service members are very open and obviously they miss home and their loved ones, so there is a shared desire to connect to others here. There are lots of conversations about faith, their life stories, challenges, and even the hopes and dreams they have today. I get to join Jesus on His mission to transform lives. I make the most of every opportunity to share Christ.
You’ll also be relived to find that I have found a number of Cub fans. We have taken solace in the fact that the Cardinals only played two more games than us. Big whoop.
The Moreno family is doing well, thanks be to God and the wonderful support of family and friends. This deployment would be much more difficult without the love, support and care that so many offer so freely. It makes a huge difference. I also want to thank you for the cards, packages, emails and facebook greetings. Every little bit of it adds up to a wonderful support system.
I want to encourage you to an important life rhythm that is part of my life and has led me here to Africa:
- Be connected to God through His Word and through worship. In those places you hear all about what God has done, is doing, and will do. There you will hear about the forgiveness that we have in Jesus and how that changes your life. In other words, make it a priority for God to pour into you.
- Be active in living out your faith. Not for show, but because there are people in your life that need to be encouraged, challenged and loved by you. They need an example, an inspiration, a peer or mentor that loves the Lord. While you are a sinner (me too), make it a priority to pour into others so they may know Christ.
Those two truths have humbled me and led me to serve as a pastor and as a chaplain. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and puts me in situations that are tough and seemingly impossible. But we have a God that does impossible things daily! May the Holy Spirit strengthen you and draw you close to God through Word and Sacrament. May God’s peace be yours!
Pastor Mark Moreno