By Carl Stagner
November is known for Thanksgiving. It’s also known for Veterans Day. This is the time of year that people count their blessings and name them one by one; certainly, we consider our men and women in uniform a tremendous blessing. But according to one Church of God chaplain to the U.S. Navy, being thankful isn’t enough. It’s great, but it stops short of what they need most. Travis Coffey gives us a glimpse of life as a Navy chaplain, how the Lord is working in the midst of his ministry, and how the Movement can best demonstrate true gratitude for those who serve God and country.
Travis Coffey didn’t start his ministry in chaplaincy. He began in youth ministry and was ultimately responsible for the college-age demographic. A gifted worship leader, Travis has long found fulfillment and joy in lifting heart and voice to the Lord, while inspiring others to join him. With such a variety of talents, he could have taken a variety of paths. But he chose chaplaincy. More accurately, he accepted God’s call on his life to become a Navy chaplain.
The Warner University (then Warner Southern College) alum pursued higher education through seminary and earned the necessary clinical pastoral education unit at a local hospital in North Carolina. While enrolled there, he became acquainted with a Methodist minister who is now a retired Navy chaplain. This experience, combined with chats he’d had with Rev. David Erb, CAPT (retired) USN (formerly the chaplain ministries coordinator for Church of God Ministries), positioned him best to apply for Navy chaplaincy. Soon after being sworn in, Travis was on his way to Japan.
As a Navy chaplain, Travis Coffey has been blessed with opportunities he never could have expected; opportunities to speak into the hearts of countless people, in many different cultures, across the country and around the world. He recalls with excitement the believers he baptized at Tuman Bay (Guam) and the Bibles studies he’s led with both Marines and Sailors. He thinks often of the chance he had to teach English in Japan as a part of the military’s community relations. His soul delights as he considers the soul of the Sailor he recently led to the Lord. He contemplates the impact of his leadership of marriage seminars and premarital counseling for our men and women in uniform.
All this doesn’t begin to describe the amazing adventure he’s had in preaching the gospel, building nurturing relationships, and being a part of ceremonies with others in beautiful places, such as the summit of the majestic Mt. Fuji and Mt. Suribachi. Travis recalls the faces on the children at Japanese, Korean, and Thai orphanages when he and others came, bearing gifts. He sees the sovereign hand of God on his family’s life as they were led to adopt children near Tokyo. Can he imagine life without these key intersections? He wouldn’t want to.
“You get to minister to everyone on your crew, from top to bottom,” Travis explains. “You get to minister Christ’s love to those who believe differently than you. Whoever you are, whatever your background is, I’m not going to push you away from God’s love. I will be there for you. Jesus met people’s needs; I’ve been able to focus on meeting their needs. I can’t tell you how many times this has led people to reconnect with faith in God. That’s the mission behind what chaplaincy has been for me.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the day-to-day tasks of a Navy chaplain, Travis sums it up: “Every service member, warrior, and family member that wears the cloth of our country should be able to be supported spiritually. We have been called, prepared, and sent out to be the hands and feet of Christ to shepherd and minister to that particular flock. As close as your local V.A. (Veterans Affairs), military base or post, or to the far corners of the world, there is a chaplain to guide them through the highest highs and the lowest lows. That’s what we’re all about.”
As you thank God this season and all year long for our veterans, active-duty servicemen and women, and our chaplains, remember to do more than just say thanks. Travis Coffey isn’t saying that a spoken word of gratitude isn’t a kind thing to do. But he says that prayer—and focused, faithful prayer—is what’s needed most.
“Don’t just thank me for my service,” Travis explains. “Pray for me and the souls I’m entrusted to care for. Put a chaplain’s face and name on the board in your church lobby to remind everyone to pray for them—kind of like you do for a missionary, as an extension of your church. We are missionaries caring for our servicemen and servicewomen. We’re here to help heal the warriors that come home wounded spiritually, emotionally, and/or relationally; as well as the families, and all others who wear the cloth of our country. And just like missionary work can be like you’re on an island, so can chaplaincy. As they provide ministry to those they serve with and their families, as they advocate for others that have no other voice, as they care for everybody wherever they are in life. Those are really needs that chaplains have. We need your prayer covering, we need your partnership.”
Learn more about Church of God chaplain ministries at www.jesusisthesubject.org/chaplain-ministries.