David Ferguson

From Seminary to Military: The Calling of a Chaplain

As I look back I remember my life in South Korea as an ESL teacher, wondering why God had called me to South Korea. Two years after I graduated from North American Baptist College (NABC) in Edmonton, AB, I moved to Suncheon city, Chollanam-do, South Korea. It was in NABC that I had my first exposure to Koreans, Korean culture and of course Korean food. Some of the students suggested that I go to Korea to teach ESL, and one even offered me a job at her uncle’s hagwan which is a private academy. But in 1997 there was the Asian financial crisis, and many hagwans closed up overnight leaving employees stranded. I graduated from NABC in 1998 and never thought of going to South Korea at that time. By 2000, South Korea was booming again and I sensed God leading me to depart. With my Bachelor of Religion in Christian Ministry from NABC, I was legally allowed to apply for work in Korea, so I found an agent in Vancouver hiring for hagwans in South Korea. I drove from Edmonton to Vancouver one cold December morning and made the interview on time. From that point onward I had a job in South Korea.

During my fourth year there, I switched schools and cities, moving to Yongin. It was there that I met my wife-to-be. She had recently returned from West Germany where she lived for many years. She was staying at her sister’s place next to the church I had started attending only a few weeks before. In my fifth year in South Korea we got married, and soon she was expecting our first son, Joseph. It was then that I looked back to where God had originally called me, even before going to NABC. I felt God calling me to the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary. After praying to God and speaking with my wife, we knew God was calling us back to Canada.

During our first year back in Canada I found work at a school that brings South Korean middle school students to Canada for six months of ESL education. During this year I applied to be a student at CSBS and was accepted. My first year at seminary was typical of many students: getting to know the area, where to shop for food, finding an honest mechanic to fix my car, locating a good doctor’s office, getting acquainted with my professors and fellow students. Buying books and learning to be a student again was only a small part of the seminary experience. While my list of new friends at seminary continued to grow, I met two colleagues who were in the military as I once was: Jeff and Sam. They had explained to me that the military is in desperate need of chaplains. This was the opposite of when I served from 1986 to 1993. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was considering closing the chaplain trade completely during this time. Once again I prayed, asking God for direction and seeking my wife’s input as well. From this point forward, we felt God calling us to serve the CAF’s soldiers, airmen, and sailors as well as their spouses. I learned that to be a chaplain in the CAF one must have a Master of Divinity or a Master of Theology, be in good standing with their denomination, and be ordained, with two years of work experience in a church after ordination. I also had to be in good physical health. It was a tall order for someone who was only a sophomore in seminary. By God’s grace, I also had learned of a program called “RESO” (Reserve Entry Scheme Officers). This is a program for seminary students to join the Reserves which is the part-time Army or Navy. This program provides one with a basic understanding of military chaplain life designed for students. It offers full-time employment for students in the summer months and possible part-time work during the school semester. In this program one attends Boot Camp during RESO training, usually in the first year. After Boot Camp one is sent to a base in Canada for the remainder of the summer to get a feel for military life. I entered the military again through this avenue. During my RESO experience I traveled to Borden, ON, Halifax, NS, and Esquimalt, BC. I also was able to work as a chaplain with Navy Cadets at HMCS Quadra for three summers while serving with the Canadian Scottish Regiment. I particularly enjoyed my summers at Quadra as my office window was only about 20 feet away from the ocean. I must say, a beachfront office is preferred.

Since the summer of 2014, I have come full circle from where my pilgrimage began at NABC in Edmonton as I currently serve with the Regular Forces at Edmonton Garrison.   It has been a long journey but God is faithful. In July, I will be transferring from my current post serving the soldiers and doctors here to a post in Halifax, NS.

God is using chaplains in a meaningful way. As a chaplain we get to work next to people who are nominal Christians and help further their faith in God. We get to work alongside the unchurched, in the trenches and in the office, on the ships and at the dockyard, on deployment and domestic operations, as well as in the home. We are privileged to enter their lives and the lives of their families to help show them the true and living God.

Traditionally, most Canadians were attached to one of three religious denominations – Catholic, Anglican, or United Church of Canada. The CAF leaned heavily on those three denominations for many years but currently they do not have enough priests and ministers to fulfill their own needs, so the CAF currently has many chaplain positions open in both full time “Regular Forces” and part time “Army and Navy Reserves.”

Now is a great time for Baptists and other evangelicals to fill these positions to serve God, to serve Canadians, and soldiers, airmen, and sailors of the CAF including their families through this worthwhile ministry.

To apply for a chaplain position you will need to have a bachelor’s degree, a Master of Divinity, ordination, at least two years of experience working in a church after ordination, and be in good standing with your denomination leadership. You also will need to be in good physical condition, and be willing to work with people of other faiths and beliefs. If you feel God calling you into ministry with the CAF please contact your local recruiter, or go online.

-David Ferguson