Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Table In The Presence

By Lt. Carey H. Cash
Chaplain serving with the U.S. Marines
Published by Presidio Press (2005), 256 pages
The Dramatic Account of How a U.S. Marine Battalion
Experienced God’s Presence Amidst the Chaos of the War in Iraq

”Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4a)

And God truly was with the men of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment—the regiment which was the first to cross the Iraqi border during Operation Iraqi Freedom and, less than a month later, were met with an ambush in Baghdad that should have resulted in the slaughter of our troops. Their success in this mission was made possible only by divine intervention.

While this is a book that gives the reader a hard glimpse into the bleak reality of war, one that takes us into the desert with the soldiers; it is more about the hearts of the men fighting for our country, as seen through the eyes of Lt. Carey Cash. It is the real life story of how God is in all circumstances. It is the story of how we can find God even in the most horrific of situations—how God is ever-present.

Their journey begins in the desert of Kuwait where the soldiers were greeted with the following message: “Welcome to Kuwait. You are now within range of Iraqi Scud missiles.” Their mission had suddenly become all too real.

Yet, as we see demonstrated so frequently in the Bible, the desert has a way of breaking through the non-essential and the insignificant, forcing the men to focus on what was truly important in their lives, bringing God closer, preparing their hearts for what was to come. Lt. Cash describes it: “In tents, lying in fighting holes, sitting together over MREs, (Meal Ready to Eat) warming ourselves by the fire, questions abounded, coming from men who were searching for answers. Life, death, salvation, heaven, hell, forgiveness, broken relationships, learning to trust again: these were the issues first and foremost on their minds. Sweeping through the camp were a hunger for God and a hunger for spiritual resolution.” Their presence in Iraq not only becomes a fight for a nation’s freedom, but a quest for a freedom of hearts.

The desert also has a way of dispersing those doctrinal differences that encumber so many of our spiritual lives. There were no Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics. Only men searching for God. Lt. Cash writes: “We Christians are sometimes the worst at “majoring in the minors,” embroiling ourselves in debates about minor theological points, focusing on peripheral matters of doctrine and practice that too easily divide us. But in the cramped cabins of those greasy AAVs, (Amphibious Assault Vehicles) it all seemed so clear. Men in need, humbly and with a childlike faith, were seeking a God who never fails to provide for His children.”

But the desert—a place where the sands were the sanctuary, the tailgate of a Humvee the altar which held the cross and communal elements, a place where 49 troops were baptized—is only the stage of preparation for the soldiers: preparation of the heart.

When they arrive in Baghdad, the importance of their mission’s success is all too evident. Poverty and squalor, beyond what we in America can imagine, stood right outside the gates of marbled presidential palaces. When the men offered food to the residents, it became a ‘survival of the fittest’ as the strongest, usually adult men, consumed the food without a thought to women and children. These oppressed, starving and abused people are also children of God, loved by God, people who deserved a chance at freedom.

But, unfortunately, freedom is not achieved without cost.

On April 10th, 2003, the men of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment began its trek through the streets of Baghdad on a mission to take the presidential palace. The trek led them into a nightmarish and seemingly unending ambush. Between the hours of 4:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. the American troops, nearly 1000-fold, fought against a continuous hail-storm of bullets and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), but they pressed on to their goal, knowing that the tally of injuries and fatalities were mounting with each foot. A slaughter seemed eminent.

The numbers told a different story: 76 injuries, 1 fatality. Each soldier had a story to tell about their miraculous survival, that they should have been dead. The following is just one example of astonishing survival: “An enemy round had entered his helmet just above the top of his right ear. But as if its path were marked out in advance, the round had curved up and over his head, still underneath the Kevlar skin of the helmet, and finally lodged itself on the left side, about the same place where it had entered on the right.”

Stories abounded about how RPGs and bullets suddenly were flung in different directions away from the men, how the mere presence of a backpack on the side of an AAV saved the lives of twenty plus men, how Iraqi insurgents would point and run from an enemy our soldiers couldn’t see. Like Daniel in the lion’s den, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, these men survived to tell the story of God’s intervention. God had been there shielding, protecting and defending, turning disbelieving soldiers into faithful followers.

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