Minutes ago I received news that disrupts the soul and squeezes the chest. Family friends of ours from our previous pastoral appointment learned this morning that their 21-year-old son, Andrew, sustained injuries from a Humvee accident in Iraq. Andrew, a United States Army private, was driving the vehicle when it was hit by an IED. His injuries have resulted in both of his legs being amputated.
I knew Andrew from the time he was thirteen until he departed late last spring for duty in Iraq. I was his pastor for seven years. He and our oldest son graduated from high school together three years ago. Andrew and I (mutually) endured each other during his two years of confirmation classes, although I can say that I often enjoyed witnessing his energy level, his wit and his surprisingly insightful questions or comments during those classes.
It's funny ... during those years many of us wondered what Andrew would one day do with his life. Academics were not exactly his forte, and he didn't express much interest in further academic work beyond the high school level. And when he made it clear that military service was in his future I wondered how that would go for him. Everything I heard in those early months of his preparation, though, made me proud of what he was doing. He successfully completed boot camp, and it seemed that military service would be an excellent option for him.
It was, of course, a very difficult day last spring when we as a congregation, and I as their pastor, wished Andrew and Cody (another young man serving our country in Iraq) a God-blessed departure. In the final worship service before their deployment, we gathered around these two young men, laying hands of support and blessing upon them for their journey ahead. It remains for me one of the most profound experiences of my pastoral life, for these two were among the first ninth graders (in my first two successive years) I had laid hands of confirmation blessing upon years earlier. I was struck then, and now, with how quickly our children grow and move into adulthood. In but a blink of the eye they make that mysterious transition from dependency to independence, assuming responsibilities and roles many of us older ones shrink back from.
As a pastor in a denomination which has historically championed the cause of peace over warfare (and has often had the unpopular role of representing peace in the midst of international turmoil), it is with mixed emotions that I consider how Andrew's young life has been changed. Perhaps the real issue is that I wonder how I myself would have confronted such a looming challenge when I was a young man of 21. I'm not sure I would have had the strength and the fortitude to reach deep within to confront such a challenge. But I believe Andrew has that strength. It is strength that stems from the very place that motivated his desire to serve in the armed forces in the first place. It is a strength I cannot claim knowledge of, but one I have witnessed in Andrew's life, both at the time of his deployment, and one that I anticipate in this time of life transition.
As I remarked in an email earlier today to his parents, I never thought I would say this when I knew Andrew as a fourteen-year-old confirmand, but Andrew is a hero in my book, a brave, courageous young man who has given more for his country than most of us will ever realize. While most of us will continue to argue the philosophical merits of war/no war, or complain about the increasing prices of gas (due, we are told, in part to the Iraq War), in this young man (as in so many other women and men bravely serving in a difficult environment) we have someone of heroic proportions.
Thank you, Andrew, for giving yourself to a cause bigger than yourself, and for sacrificing more than most of us will ever be called upon to give.