I had a conversation with my father-in-law in September. He reflected on his time in the Navy during the Cold War, serving on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean in the late 1950s. Although he is proud of his service to this country, he said something to the effect of, “Well, I only did paperwork.” Like many Veterans, I think he may feel that his contributions were not that significant in this nation’s defense.
I also had a recent conversation with two soldiers who work with me. I reminded them that we often support and defend the U.S. Constitution by simple tasks such as answering the phone or making a PowerPoint slide. By working hard for the leaders we are assigned to serve, we enable them to do their jobs, which has a significant impact on promoting peace and stability in the world.
I have written two articles for Veterans Day before. (You can read them here and here.) As we think about our Veterans this year, I invite you to consider the ways that each soldier, sailor, airman, and marine has contributed to our nation’s defense, no matter what their occupational specialty was.
A Personal Illustration
As a nuclear, biological, and chemical specialist assigned to a military police company in Korea from 1988-1989, I did not believe that maintaining our protective masks and other equipment or conducting training had any eternal value. During this tour, I read a life-changing book, Your Work Matters to God, by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks. I did not know that I could love my neighbor in whatever job I was given as long as I was committed to working “as unto the Lord.”
The authors ask, “Can you see how a biblical view of work redefines how you think about your job? As God’s coworker, you can enter the workplace with a tremendous sense of God’s presence and the conviction that God’s power is at work in you to accomplish his work on behalf of other people.”
Flash forward to 9/11, when America was under attack. In response, a number of Army Reserve and National Guard units were deployed overseas. In God’s timing, I was assigned to a training support battalion in Salt Lake City, Utah, whose mission was to assist these units. My task was to provide technical training and logistical support to hundreds of Soldiers who were going into harm’s way. I knew that my job provided an opportunity to love God and love my neighbors, since it directly involved taking care of Soldiers and accomplishing the mission of the units in which I served.
An Old Testament Team of Teams
One of the best accounts in the Bible that demonstrates the value of individuals contributing to the team is found in the narrative of how the Israelites built the tabernacle. In this great story which begins in Exodus 25, we see Spirit-filled artisans working together on a divine project that displays the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work, what I call Immanuel labor. God worked in them to work through them so that those around them could experience his presence.
This project would require a team of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen. These chosen people with special occupations that God called upon were artisans and construction workers, what we would call “blue-collar” workers—or in the military, enlisted. These are the kinds of talented people that were needed: carpenters, furniture makers, metalworkers, jewelers, those who could make curtains and garments, embroiderers, and perfume makers. Every one of these laborers were necessary to get the tabernacle done safely, on time, and under budget. Their work mattered to God.
The big picture was that the tabernacle would be the centerpiece of the Israelites’ temporary home in the wilderness. Wherever they would go, the presence of God would rest on this portable temple. It would be the place where “They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them, I am the LORD their God” (Ex. 29:45-46).
Next, let us take a brief look at a New Testament passage where a similar pattern emerges, that each individual’s contributions are worthy of respect and are invaluable to the success of the whole.
A Warning from the Apostle Paul
As part of a recurring discussion addressing unity in the local church, Paul taught on the value of each member of the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, Paul compares them to parts of the human body. He instructs those who see themselves (in their own assessment) to be small and insignificant. His admonition to them is this: don’t discount your contribution or wish you were some other part.
Paul understood the value of each members’ contribution. Each one has purpose and function. The whole body cannot do what it needs to do without the work of each individual part. In the same way, members of a unit, ship, or team can accomplish the mission only when each one does his or her job.
It is easy for some people to miss the impact of their contributions to their unit of assignment. The personnel paperwork that my father-in-law did for his ship would have made it possible for sailors to get paid, to go on leave, to get promoted, to receive evaluation reports, to put awards they earned into their official records, and to ensure their families received life insurance if something happened to them.
Those actions increased the readiness and morale of that unit, which enabled them to do what they were designed to do: to protect our assets at home and abroad. This mountain of paperwork that was generated, handled, approved, sent up, and filed was necessary to take care of people who mattered.
I don’t know which job you have done in the military, but I do know that the mundane work you selflessly did to take care of people, equipment, plans, or operations kept your unit moving forward. I thank God there are people like you to maintain the justice work that God needs done in this world.