Influencing the world's military leaders for Christ
It happened in San Antonio,Texas.
Every year, military personnel from over 100 nations come to further their training in the United States. Whenever the USA has a defense accord with a country, military personnel from that country can be sent here for specialized training in their fields. San Antonio is a major hub for training of foreign officers. After English language, medical, or technical training, the officers radiate out to other bases scattered throughout the United States.
A new ministry exists in San Antonio to meet the needs of these souls in uniform. Veteran Assembly of God World Missions (AGWM) missionaries Dave and Jan Hall began the Foreign Armed Forces Network (FAFN) in 2005 to minister to military officers from around the globe. The need in San Antonio is so great that another veteran missionary couple, the Hall's longtime friends Ken and Peggy Krake, joined the work in 2008.
The seed of reaching the military was planted some 20 years before it began to blossom. The Halls were missionaries in Togo at the time. Dave obtained a press pass to photograph a military parade. As he snapped pictures, he looked into the faces of the men marching by. "My heart was gripped with the need for outreach to the military," said Hall. "Behind the uniforms and the deadpan expressions, I saw faces of real people with a real need of a Savior." He prayed on the spot, "Lord, if you will open this door, I'll walk through it."
Initially, that included distributing 3,000 copies of the New Testament in French to the Togolese military. It would be two decades of prayer before AGWM headquarters established a formal policy that foreign militaries should be targeted with the Gospel.
Regional Director for Africa Mike McClaflin explained the hesitation. "We tend to be very a-political when we go overseas. Where we have become political, we've done so to our great hurt and discomfort. Any time you get involved too heavily with the military, you're beginning to scratch governmental issues. And in many African countries, you can be military one day and president of the country the next. [There's] that natural concern of losing a visa which makes you so cautious."
In 2004, AGWM gave the Halls permission to establish FAFN, and the initial thought was that they would travel to different countries to minister to international military personnel. After a tough visa situation that refused to resolve, the Halls visited with the Association of Christian Conferences, Teaching and Service (ACCTS - http://www.accts.org) staff in San Antonio and decided to relocate there.
"I did have a bit of a concern (about the initial plan)," recalled McClaflin, "...not about [AGWM missionaries], but about flying into [a sensitive country], going to a retreat, and having people wonder, 'What's this American doing coming to us?' But when this thing opened up, it wasn't us going to them, it was them coming to us. The world comes here, and we create a firewall that gets us away from visa concerns and suspicions.
"I remember the day Dave Hall called me on my cell phone to tell me about San Antonio," McClaflin commented. "All the lights went on. I thought, 'This is it!' The rest is pure history."
"Six (foreign military) people came forward two weeks ago, to be saved," noted Wayne Clark, pastor of First Assembly in San Antonio, in a recent interview concerning FAFN. "The impact is incredible...measurable. One officer called me aside after the Halls befriended him and invited him to church. He was leaving the next week. He bowed, and he said, 'I am a man in submission to your God.' I will never forget that experience as long as I live. It stands my hair up to know what he was saying."
There have been a number of spectacular conversions such as these, but Hall sees the ministry as a seed planting and watering effort to build relationships and introduce officers to the person of Jesus. Students who come to San Antonio have a reputation for being the future leadership of their countries. Christians in key positions of leadership can change countries.
"Countries normally send their very best people here to study, the ones they look on as having the greatest potential. I heard recently that a student from South Asia is now the commander in chief of his nation's armed forces. The impact of this ministry only eternity will tell," Hall commented recently.
One African officer came for training in San Antonio disillusioned and said he didn't believe in anything. He attended Bible studies for months. Finally on a Sunday morning before the service, he turned to Hall and said, "There comes a time in a person's life when you have to make a decision. I've made mine, and I want you and the pastor to pray with me after church."
Hall noted that the officer did not go forward for a special appeal or because others were, but because he believed. "He was tall, jet black, slender, a son of the desert. I told him to pray in his native tongue. Then a tear rolled down his cheek. Sometime later, another officer who wasn't there, an Eastern Orthodox believer, called me up and asked, 'What happened?' He's just blossomed."
Not all their work takes place on the base or at church, however. Hospitality accounts for most of FAFN's ministry. The Halls and the Krakes open their homes to the officers and show them around town. They invite them to share holidays and meals together.
"We introduce the students to American culture and values. The best way to counter-act the misconceptions about America and Americans is to open your home." explained Krake. "It's about building relationships and taking time.
"God gives us special moments when we invite [students] into our homes. The whole world is coming to our doorstep. It's just awesome. Five of thirteen went up this morning for a salvation call at church; but we really pray for those individual times, as well.
"There was an African officer who had been in our home several times." Krake continued. "When it was time for him to leave San Antonio, I got out of the car to give him a hug, and I could see that he was so afraid he was going to break down and cry. He just turned quickly, and walked away. For him, it was like leaving home. The students are impacted by our openness and the Holy Spirit. I saw the glistening in his eyes, and I knew that God had impacted his life and he would never forget that. I could see that when he did his military turn and walked away."
The work has been fruitful, enjoyable and sometimes difficult. "We were used to turnovers in our churches in Europe (serving US military abroad) of one to three years," said Krake. "Here they're changing from two months to a year. One of the great challenges is remembering names and where they are from. You work every angle you can to remember names you've never heard before."
It's also a challenge to serve in an environment where proselytizing is forbidden. "With policy restrictions on proselytizing," said Hall, "my answer is I don't proselytize, I proclaim. We proclaim by lifestyle and word.
"I'm not into putting notches on my pistol grip. The Bible says in John 6:44, 'No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.' It's the Spirit of God that moves in a person's heart. It's been a liberating experience for me, because it's God who does the work. We are to go into all the world and preach to every nation and make disciples. But God draws them, not us."
The military officers come from all over the world and from all different walks of life, but the largest group of students FAFN ministers to are not Christians. The Halls and the Krakes keep logs of the passengers who ride in their Speed-the-Light vans. Hall's list is approaching 100 different nationalities.
"FAFN is unique and amazing in terms of opportunity," said one AGWM director, who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of his work. "I don't know of any other missionaries who have the same kind of opportunity, but anywhere there is a significant population of non-Christian foreigners, the local church can do this. FAFN provides a wonderful model that churches around the country could try. It doesn't have to be military. Everybody needs a friend."