MEETING THE SPIRITUAL NEEDS OF OUR ARMED FORCES
Interview with Kevin Olive
Kevin Olive, an officer in the Canadian military, has served as a chaplain since 2008. He returned last March from Operation ATTENTION, serving as the last Canadian chaplain in Afghanistan. Here’s a look at how God uses him to minister to the needs of soldiers in a multi-faith environment.
t: What led to your passion for military chaplaincy?
KO: My father was in the military for 30 years. While living in Base Borden, I was invited to a youth meeting at Hi-Way Pentecostal Church in Barrie, Ontario, where I committed my life to Christ. I then moved with my parents to Canadian Forces Base Shilo in Manitoba, and went on to complete degrees in theology and history, as well as a Master of Divinity degree (an M. Div is a requirement for becoming a chaplain in the Canadian Forces).
Two events led me to chaplaincy. The first one was 9/11, as I watched the funerals for the first four soldiers killed overseas. I had been pastoring churches in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Although I was not aware of it at the time, God was trying to get my attention that it was time for a ministry shift. The other event was a period in my life where I was unsure if I could do the “work” of ministry in the church. By the time I was at my last church, something had changed in my heart. I still wanted to be in ministry, but being a senior pastor was not “working” for me anymore. As all of this inner work was unfolding, the Chaplain Branch was also evolving into a more diverse organization which had ample room for evangelical chaplains. The irony is that my training all took place at Base Borden (by Barrie), where the Lord first came into my life. What’s even more amazing is that the first place we were posted to was Canadian Forces Base Shilo!
t: What are some primary concerns among soldiers?
KO: This past year I spent almost nine months in Afghanistan. I had the awesome privilege of being on the last mission there. One of the things you need to know about warriors is that they are some of the brightest, most compassionate and well-rounded people you will ever meet. They live by their actions, not by their words. From June 2009 until now, I have been working with the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Since 9/11, at least 26 people have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving overseas with this unit. When you live life on the edge, you are forced on many occasions to deal with the reality of your mortality. The infantryman asks more questions about the meaning and purpose of his life than the average person on the street. Life in a war zone is compressed. You will experience in six months what some will never go through in an entire life. Your faith can be extremely challenged. One guy loses both legs when stepping on an improvised explosive device; another young man steps on a similar device and survives with just a superficial wound. Life comes at you 1,000 miles per hour.
t: How are you able to serve the soldiers’ needs?
KO: I don’t tell people what to think or what to believe in. As a chaplain, my primary mission is to minister to the people of my own faith group, facilitate the worship for other faith groups, but ultimately to serve all. I can’t go into the details of my job, but I can tell you that soldiers are spiritual people. Compared to ministering in a church, chaplaincy is different in its scope and nature. We support people and when they give us an invitation to pray or to answer some of the “bigger” questions of life, we are free to share. Some issues are not spiritual, but human and common to all people. We live in a world where everything has to work out in a 60 minute time space, like a TV show. This ministry has forced me to stand back and listen to the stories of the people I serve—to embrace their anger and frustration and suffering that come at times with powerful grief—and then, not to judge. To love someone unconditionally, which is embedded so deeply in the gospel, is the greatest gift we can give people. The Holy Spirit has been described as the One who comes alongside us. This is how I feel my calling is working its way out. I get to come alongside people when they need hope the most. Hope comes in many forms. Sometimes I direct people to our mental health teams; sometimes I am given permission to pray and share words of hope and meaning from the Word of God.
t: What obstacles might be on the horizon as perceptions of Christians continue to be different from what has traditionally been enjoyed?
KO: The Chaplain Branch has done a very good job of being forward thinking and trying its best to make sure that we are representative of modern Canadian society. We currently have Jewish as well as Muslim chaplains. We may not all agree on theological issues, but we have great respect for each other as we support our service members. It is the expectation of the Chaplain Branch that I am faithful to my denominational theological positions. In fact, if I were to lose my credentials, I could no longer serve as a chaplain in the Canadian Forces.
t: How can Canadians pray for our soldiers effectively?
KO: As you might imagine, the war has taken its toll on families. Separation and the collateral damage from war is profound at times. Pray for those who serve in the care-providing jobs—our mental health teams, chaplains and medical personnel. We want to be effective. Pray for wisdom. Our commanders and other leaders also need wisdom as we all move forward together. Someone has to be the warrior. Someone has to be the police officer, the firefighter, the medic. These people need your prayers as well since they make the sacrifice of protecting and caring for local communities and our nation. Pray for spouses to have strength and courage. Pray for our soldiers so that darkness does not overcome the light they have in their lives.
Kevin Olive lives in Brandon, MB, with his wife, Lisa, and their three children, Michael, Matthew and Sarah. Visit http://www.forces.ca/en/job/chaplain-55.
Photo courtesy Kevin Olive. ©The Maple Leaf.
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