Oct. 19, 2020
The job of a military chaplain involves offering hope, counsel and pastoral care to soldiers facing difficult situations at home and abroad. Over the years, dozens of Biola University graduates have gone on to use their biblical and theological training to serve in this challenging role.
In honor of Veterans Day, four alumni currently serving as military chaplains recently shared their stories with Biola, explaining how God is ministering to them and through them in the U.S. military.
Brent Causey: ‘Serving My God and My Country’
As command chaplain for the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Brent Causey (’81) is responsible for the religious support of more than 37,000 personnel in 47 states and 30 countries.
“The greatest significance of my position as a chaplain is knowing that when I come to any situation, as a representative of God and Christ, there is a calmness, reassurance, and hope that those around me feel,” said Causey.
After feeling the call to full-time ministry at the young age of 16 years old, Causey attended Biola with the desire to be an Army chaplain. During his ensuing years in the military, he said he has been grateful for the opportunities to be an encouragement to soldiers in need — whether they are facing enemy fire or issues at home — and to provide a message of a God who cares.
“Never is there a question of ‘What are you doing here, chaplain?’ Rather, it is ‘Hey chaplain, what’s the good word?’” said Causey. “My biggest passion is being allowed the opportunity to serve both my God and my country. To share and support our nation’s heroes, and to be a strength for their families. To be allowed to share and live my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As command chaplain for USACE, his role includes training, mentorship of junior chaplains, post-traumatic stress disorder assessment, Bible studies and other duties.
Until recently, Causey held the post of senior chaplain for U.S. forces deployed to Afghanistan and religious adviser to the commander of U.S. and NATO forces serving in Afghanistan. He also worked with the Afghan military as they developed their religious and cultural affairs officers.
While in Afghanistan, he was able to see the work of God’s hand in the senior staff of U.S. forces leadership, he said, watching a colonel’s Thursday evening Bible study grow from 10 percent of the leaders attending to 80 percent of the leadership attending in a short three months.
“These were the leaders that were making the recommendations to the commanders on the strategy to move forward with our mission in Afghanistan, and they were seeking first the kingdom of God,” he said.
Joshua Kim: ‘A Minister on the Frontline’
After graduating from Biola’s Talbot School of Theology, Joshua Kim (’00) began working at a large church. It was eight years later when he joined the Army as a chaplain. He prayed for the Lord to lead him out of his comfort zone, and the Lord moved Kim to “a place where God works, not I,” he said.
His wife left her high-paying job at UCI Medical Center and he left his post at the church where he oversaw multiple staff members and 1,200 young Christians. Moving from California to Fort Carson, Colo., was difficult, but they were happy, he said.
Kim calls himself a minister on the frontline. As a chaplain, he responds to soldiers and their families who are dealing with broken relationships, loneliness, temptation, immorality, financial crises, suicidal thoughts, loss of loved ones and other deep issues.
“Many of them need immediate responses to their needs and I feel like I am in the frontline of the spiritual battlefield for these soldiers,” said Kim.
With the open nature of the chaplaincy position, Kim often has the opportunity to minister to non-Christians and was able to lead some of the soldiers he worked with to Christ during his last deployment to Afghanistan. During his meetings with soldiers, Kim is in constant reliance on the Lord for wisdom, he said.
“Many non-Christians approach me for their problems. I do not have answers for them in my head, but Jesus gives me wisdom every time I silently pray during the counseling,” Kim said. “The soldiers go out of my office with clearer thoughts and peace in their hearts. I know it is not of me, but from God.”
Ryan Bareng: An Unexpected Journey
Ryan Bareng (’04) had hoped to pursue graduate studies at UCLA after completing his M.A. in Theology at Talbot; he had no intention of becoming a chaplain or joining the Navy. However, one day in professor Richard Rigsby's Hebrew class at Talbot, a classmate leaned over and suggested Bareng consider chaplaincy. After reading the job description, it was an easy decision: The fit was perfect for Bareng.
After re-enrolling to finish his M.Div. to meet requirements for the Navy chaplaincy, it was a fast ride to his current role serving aboard the USS Green Bay ship — an amphibious warship that carries sailors and Marines ready for anything from amphibious assault to humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
Bareng has been on three deployments since his start in 2007 (two of which were in the Middle East). While out to sea, Bareng was able to hold Bible study groups, hermeneutics classes and church services almost every day of the week, as well as meeting with sailors and Marines.
“Spirituality is a fundamental coping mechanism which has kept many sailors and Marines in the fight,” said Bareng. “The significance of my job is that I regularly engage my sailors and Marines in a way that another officer, petty officer or chief petty officer cannot.”
Bareng loves the pastoral care and biblical counseling aspect of his job, he said. As part of his chaplaincy, Bareng is charged with keeping leadership up to date on morale issues — a role unique to the relational side of being a chaplain.
“Overall, I keep my eyes and ears open so that the leadership can better understand the morale and issues facing their people from my perspective,” said Bareng. “I work together with the leadership to ensure that our people are getting the help they need.”
Khoi To: An Unconventional Path
For alumnus Khoi To (’06), the journey to becoming a chaplain in the U.S. Army was not a straight and narrow path. Describing his life as convoluted and full of sin, To — who became a Christian later in life — said he was the last person he would ever consider to be eligible for the clergy or a chaplaincy position.
After graduating from La Mirada High School, To immediately enlisted in the Army as a way to pay his respects for the soldiers who died and sacrificed their lives for him; To had been able to escape Saigon, Vietnam, when he was 7 years old with his family during the political unrest thanks to American soldiers, he said. Serving as a combat medic and then in the Army Reserve for 14 years, the Army became his mistress, pulling him away from his marriage, To said.
During a deployment in Desert Storm, To remembers the first time he gave his life to Christ. Lying on the ground wearing his chemical protective suit, he listened as missiles flew overhead. Ultimately waiting to die, To kneeled next to his cot to accept the Lord as his Savior. It was a number of years later when he truly gave his life to the Lord, though, he said.
With marital troubles and living in what To calls “spiritual rebellion,” he reached the end of his hope one night. Placing the barrel of a .357 Magnum in the back of his throat, To said he heard God’s voice telling him to give his life back to the Lord. That night, he decided to start living with the Lord as his guide, he said.
In 1996, To first began to consider the idea of attending a seminary. The decision became clear after his wife — who had disliked the Army and the effect it had on their marriage — felt a confirmation that God was leading To to become a chaplain. Since finishing a degree at Talbot School of Theology in 2006, To has been a chaplain with the U.S. Army for five years now.
Currently serving in Korea, To’s testimony comes up almost every day in his counseling with soldiers, he said. Recently, a man came to him with marriage issues; To was able to retell the story of redemption in his own marriage, and to encourage the man to not file for a divorce but seek further counseling instead.
“And because of my story and because of God, he is willing to give [his marriage] a shot,” said To.
Ultimately, To is grateful for the opportunities he has to love his soldiers and share the hope of Jesus Christ with them no matter where they are at in life, he said.
“It’s God that converts hearts, not me,” said To. “I serve as his ambassador.”
Written by Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator. For more information, contact Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator, at 562.777.4061 or at email@example.com.
media [dot] relations [at] biola [dot] edu