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David Knight: Back home from the middle east
By HOLLY CRAFT
FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. Air Force Chaplain David Knight Jr. believes that his experience in Holston Conference prepared him for four months in the Middle East.
He spent July through November 2003 serving as the only Protestant chaplain to 1,000 troops in an undisclosed area of the Middle East. Although he primarily served Air Force troops, he also served members of the Army and Navy.
Knight kept busy by performing four worship services every weekend and leading four Bible studies during the week.
I also had the opportunity to preach at one of the few openly Christian churches in the Gulf region, Capt. Knight said in a telephone interview from Florida. The church he referred to was established by British missionaries for Christians from India and Pakistan who work in the area where Knight was deployed.
Fourteen years of serving as a civilian pastor and interaction with other chaplains from Holston prepared Knight for his military experience: I value the example of every chaplain from our conference.
The Rev. Knight, age 41, is a Holston clergy member whose pastoral record includes Wellspring UMC (Maryville District), Hixson UMC (Chattanooga District), and Carpenters UMC (Maryville District). His father is a retired Holston clergy member, the Rev. David Knight Sr., currently living in Big Stone Gap, Va.
God called me to this, Knight said of his role in the Air Force. The time I spent in Holston helped me prepare, and I have an incredible amount of respect for Holston. I feel that I am representing the United Methodist Church as an ambassador of Christ.
Knight described his role during deployment as being a voice of calm in a chaotic atmosphere.
When anxiety crept into the minds of troops, Knight was there to help by listening and counseling. He spent a lot of time supporting soldiers who were worried about their families at home. Family separation was the biggest issue, he said.
I had to tell a 20-year-old that his father died of a heart attack in the states. There was a sense of helplessness among the troops because they were away from their loved ones.
Knight is thankful that his family had an outlet for their fears and worries at the chapel located at Eglin Air Force Base in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. His wife, Stacy, was able to get the support she needed, much like the support Knight offered to troops overseas.
Knight ministered to many young service people who never attended church or chapel at home. The stresses of war forced many of them to confront questions about spirituality.
We were flying air lift missions into both Afghanistan and Iraq, Knight said. Planes did get shot at
Many troops were in a moment of crisis and began to question things. Several atheists or agnostics began to question whether or not there may be a God.
He believes it was easier for the troops to come to him for answers because he was a fellow member of the military. There were at least 12 soldiers that confided in him. While stationed close to the coast, Knight was able to baptize seven soldiers in the Arabian Sea. Three of those had no prior relationship with the church.
His relationship with the troops was one of significance, and he enjoyed working with so many at one time. I think it was fantastic, he said.
Knight lived and preached in tents, but he had hot meals and some air conditioning. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, he said. He was willing to stay longer than four months but also more than ready to come home. You have to know that's what you're getting into when you go into the military, said Knight. There's always a chance that you'll have to stay longer.
Knight is currently serving a Protestant church at Eglin Air Force Base. He also is involved with a youth program and provides counseling and family support.
If there is anything that Knight wants to communicate to those of United Methodist faith, it is that they should value their roots. The roots of the faith are experiencing God's grace, he said. I've seen it work in other cultures. I've seen it work in the military.
Value your connection, he said. I have a good sense that I have backup.
Holly Craft is a free-lance writer living in Maryville, Tenn.
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As he looks out the window of his apartment, today Reese is glad to be at Wesley Woods Towers. This is next to heaven, he said. ¡&Mac189;
Reprinted with permission, Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the official newspaper of the North Georgia and South Georgia Conferences.
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