A story from Afghanistan

A padre’s experience.

It was the Company Sergeant Major who noticed it first. ‘What’s that?’ He had noticed a loose bit of plastic poking out from a pouch on Curtis’ armour. ‘Just a Bible Sir,’ the youngster from Manchester replied, quickly tucking it in. The Sergeant Major asked to see it, and then explained that something so special deserved a new bag. Later they sat and the story of the Bible in the young soldier’s body armour was shared, and within minutes we knew about it back at Shawqat. I was due out at Folad the next day anyway, and as soon as I had got my body armour off and a brew in my hand, I sat down with Curtis to hear the story first-hand. The little, battered copy of the New Testament and Psalms had been presented to his great, great grandfather, Private J Greenwood, as a gift from the Naval and Military Bible Society before he deployed into Europe in the First World War. It was then passed to Curtis’ great grandad when he served in World War 2 and then to his grandad, Dennis when he served in Korea with the REME. He never spoke about the time he was captured and held prisoner, but through it all, the times of success and the times that were never given words, that little Bible stayed with him and gave him some degree of comfort and hope, despite the horror. Uncle Gary took it with him to Northern Ireland too, and yet it was only when Curtis’ great aunt died, that the whole of the story of the little book came to light. And now, 98 years on, it has been passed to Curtis as he serves on his first tour of Afghanistan. Almost a century of service, of sacrifice, of willingness to step into the breach for the freedom of others has helped define Curtis’ family: ‘It means a lot; it’s shaped me. The whole family has served, and that brought me to the point of knowing that I wanted to join the Army too.’

And along with all that family’s service, a little Bible has brought words of comfort, hope and promise across the globe. And so it was pleasure, an honour, as I left PB Folad, to give Curtis a new Bible, gifted by the Naval, Military and Air Force Bible Society as it is now. The oldest Bible Society on the planet, and still gently, quietly and generously putting God’s word of healing, hope and life into the hands of any of our finest and foremost who would wish to receive it. ‘I write to you young men, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you.’ (1Jn 2:14) 
 
So, as Christmas approaches, remember to say thanks to soldiers like the Curtis’ family and all those others who for a century and more have lived out their hope in the service of our nation.
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