by Adriane Dorr
Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Williams was raised in the western suburbs of Chicago. While in third grade, he decided he wanted to become a pastor, and he did, graduating in 1992 from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. Rev. Williams served congregations in Kansas, Wisconsin and Colorado and then on the faculty of Concordia University Wisconsin.
He joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in 1977 and was later appointed as a chaplain in 1994 to serve units in Kansas and Colorado. His CAP awards include Exceptional Service, Commander Commendation and Achievement Awards; the Gill Robb Wilson Certificate (the highest senior member training award); life saving, Air Search and Rescue and numerous activity ribbons.
The following is an edited Lutheran Witness (LW) interview with Williams (JW):
LW: Give us a brief history of the Civil Air Patrol.
JW: The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) grew out of efforts by Gill Robb Wilson and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in the months preceding World War II. The founders were very aware the United States was not ready for the war that everyone expected, so they decided to offer the services of civilian pilots and airplanes for domestic use. CAP was chartered on Dec. 1, 1941, six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the opening days of the war, CAP was tasked with spotting German submarines that lurked off the East Coast. Using light civilian aircraft, CAP is credited with sinking one submarine and locating survivors of 369 ships.
Consequently, the first aerial photographs of ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001, were taken from a CAP Cessna 172. CAP also provided support on the ground and in the air for Hurricane Katrina, the floods in North and South Dakota and during the Gulf oil spill.
LW: The LCMS has a number of men who are endorsed to be chaplains in the CAP. What is their role?
JW: According to the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces website, there are 29 LCMS pastors serving as chaplains. Although the CAP chaplain is a volunteer and receives no pay or benefits for his service, he still has to meet the same educational and ecclesiastical endorsements as an active duty, Reserve, National Guard or Veterans Administration chaplain. This means the chaplain must have a Master of Divinity degree and be endorsed by the Synod.
In Emergency Services, the chaplain is available to support the cadet and senior members who are working to support the community. During the recent Gulf oil spill, CAP provided several chaplains to support CAP, the Coast Guard and others who were trying to minimize the damage to property and life. The chaplain may be called upon for prayers, for services, for counseling, for that friendly ear or to be part of an incident debriefing team.
CAP chaplains may be on the front lines at a disaster, while non-CAP clergy are not allowed in the area because they do not have training. Chaplains may be trained in Critical Incident Stress Management, helping first-responders deal with the horrors of natural and man-made destruction. We are trained to function in a pluralistic society while maintaining the integrity of our confession, never compromising the truth of the Gospel.
LW: Why are CAP chaplains so necessary?
JW: The chaplain provides a reminder of God to those who are serving their country or community. Countless active duty military have spoken of the comfort they have received from the chaplains who are present as they face danger. Although CAP is a civilian, non-combatant organization, CAP members face the stresses of long hours and dangerous missions to save the lives of those in trouble. CAP members often are asked to search for a downed airplane in the same weather that caused an airplane accident. CAP members are asked to fly blood or vaccines at night, in poor weather or conditions of urgency. Chaplains support these missions.
LW: What do these men and women need to hear with regard to matters of faith?
JW: Cadets and senior members, like the world at large, need to know of God’s grace and mercy as found in Christ Jesus alone. The CAP chaplain proclaims salvation by grace through faith for the sake of Christ. In the various chapel services he prepares, the chaplain proclaims the same Law and Gospel that any Lutheran pastor proclaims any time he is so privileged to serve God’s people. The CAP chaplain may be conducting that service in a classroom a hotel lobby, an airplane hangar or outside. No matter, we preach Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins.
LW: As the Colorado Wing chaplain, in what sorts of situations have you found yourself bringing Christ to those in need?
JW: Two weeks after being named as the Colorado Wing chaplain, there was a wild fire in Boulder that destroyed over 160 homes. CAP was called out to help with relief supplies, sorting donated food and clothing and distributing it to those who had lost everything. We were on the job for two weeks. As each new shift came on, I would offer a prayer. During the lull in activities, I was able to speak of God’s love, grace and mercy even in the midst of the raging fire. As a chaplain, I was able to care for our members by making sure they were hydrated, rested and receiving proper nutrition. I was able to care for our members by offering prayers, encouragement, short devotions and Scripture readings.
LW: Why is the LCMS continued involvement in CAP needed?
JW: We, as Lutherans, have the full and complete truth of salvation by grace through faith for the sake of Christ. We have the proper understanding of the means of grace whereby the Holy Spirit calls us and preserves us in faith in Christ Jesus. As both Lutherans and non-Lutherans serve their communities, we need to support them with prayer. We need to be there in the prophetic role of pastor, applying God’s Word to various situations. We need to be there in the priestly role by representing the people entrusted to us to our heavenly Father. We need to be ready to answer the questions posed by those who do not know Christ Jesus. We need to proclaim God’s rich grace and favor when the opportunity arises to provide chapel services. By providing chaplains, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod shows that God cares for His people and that in the same way Jesus walked with mankind, we walk with our neighbors to represent Christ to them.
LW: What is the greatest joy of being able to bring Christ to the suffering?
JW: I get to bring Christ to those who are uncertain, who don’t know Him, who sit in the darkness of sin. By being there, by listening, by answering their questions, I can show them the hope that comes from faith.
Everyone is suffering from something, be it ill health, a wildfire or waiting for word that a downed airplane has been found with survivors. Everyone has doubts; everyone feels the effects of sin. Every chaplain, every pastor, can tell stories of burdens lifted, hope restored and lives changed because we preach the cross of Christ Jesus. That is to say, the joys of CAP chaplaincy are the joys of being a pastor.
About the Author: Adriane Dorr (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.