In a very basic sense, the Christian in the fighter pilot world lives a “ministry of presence.” Living among those to whom a Christian hopes to minister opens a door that the TV evangelist, street corner Bible thumper, and pulpit preacher will never have. Few fighter pilots would give those people the time of day—they’ll simply change the channel, cross the street, or watch football on Sunday. The Christian fighter pilot, on the other hand, they know and work with. When a Christian fighter pilot lives a wise and successful professional life, they will respect and trust him. If he lives a Christ-centered life, they will see Jesus in him. That is the essence of a Christian fighter pilot’s ministry of presence.
Importantly, though, just as being a Christian in a foreign land does not inherently make a man a missionary, simply being a Christian in an unChristian fighter pilot world does not mean he’s a ministering pilot. Read more
It’s important for a Christian fighter pilot to have an open and positive attitude towards the fellowships he may find at a new location. When departing a base with a large, well-run fellowship and moving to a place that only has a small group it is tempting to despondently remember how good it “used to be.” Even though Academy cadets eagerly await graduation, I have seen some bemoan their departure because they fear their new base won’t have a fellowship like the one they were leaving. Even though remote tours contain some of the harshest spiritual, emotional, and physical conditions I have known, I have seen airmen lament their departure from Korea for fear they’d be unable to duplicate the unique and intimate fellowship they’d experienced there.
Throughout the rest of the Air Force, this is known as the “Base X” syndrome. Read more
Attending a fellowship or Bible study is a close second to finding a church. Occasionally a Christian fighter pilot will find both a compelling church and a strong Bible study, but more often one will be weaker and it will be the combination of the two that will provide him sufficient Christian teaching and fellowship. I experienced that very thing early on in my cadet career.
Officer’s Christian Fellowship (OCF) conducted a Bible study on Monday nights as part of the sanctioned Special Programs in Religious Education (SPIRE) system sponsored by the cadet chapel. The hosts of OCF also hosted a Saturday night Bible study at their home just outside the Academy gate. The sponsors were Lt Col Terry Stokka and his wife, Artha. Lt Col Stokka had been a navigator on an AC-119 gunship in Vietnam. As a retired Air Force aviator he garnered immediate respect from cadets. When I attended the first OCF gathering, I was impressed with the Bible study; it involved Lt Col Stokka and some cadets playing guitar and singing praise and worship songs, and then the group divided for in-depth Bible studies. The organization and structure of the gathering impressed me, and Lt Col Stokka’s leadership style and obvious spiritual maturity reassured me that I could be comfortable and learn in the environment of OCF.
Once I began attending OCF, my spiritual foundation became significantly stronger and I started to grow. I found in that fellowship what I had lacked in the many local churches I had attended. My spiritual growth was exponential in my last year and a half as a cadet not because of church attendance but because of the teaching and mentorship of OCF. In some cases it came about simply by being around and observing other Christians. It was at OCF that I saw the benefits of the ability to play guitar. Read more
Arriving at a new base often makes a military Christian feel as though he’s been thrown into the water by himself—the only options are to sink or swim. The single most important thing he can do is establish his spiritual support. Finding a church and Bible study to attend are important to prevent him from feeling that he is standing alone.
The Base Chapel
When a Christian fighter pilot moves to a new location (whether a new assignment or temporary duty), his number one priority (short of eating) should be finding a church to attend. (At some churches, his meal may be taken care of as well.) Read more
The transition from cadet life to active duty is a significant one, particularly for cadets from the military academies. While cadets from civilian colleges have lived “real” lives for the past few years, most Academy cadets are straight out of high school. The only life they have known has been the enforced structure of a military school, dorms and meals provided. The Academy has changed significantly, in part due to progress, in part due to scandal. Still, the fishbowl life of the Academy remains unique in its structure and rigidity. The first time that most cadets experience “freedom” is immediately after graduation when they are given 60 days of leave before reporting to their first assignments. Some take the opportunity to travel, others get married, some spend time with their families, and some do nothing at all. Unbeknownst to them, that leave is a quiet transition between the “too much homework” of the Academy and the “too many things to do” of the “real” Air Force.
Many Christian Academy cadets graduate with high aspirations of the things they’ll do when they’re finally free and clear, whether it’s going to church regularly, finding a Bible study, starting a personal daily Bible study, or beginning to tithe. Read more
What’s the difference between God and a fighter pilot? God doesn’t think he’s a fighter pilot. – Unknown
Some people have compared fighter pilots with the knights of old; selected because of their superior skills and courage, they charge off into battle with little or no support to further the greater good. Though modern training and equipment have taken many of the uncertainties away, flying can still be dangerous, and flying in combat is more dangerous still. Being a fighter pilot, then, does have the qualities of a noble profession. Men and women sometimes become fighter pilots because of the impact they as an individual know they can make for the good of their country. While some want to be nobly fly and fight for their country, many want to be fighter pilots just because it looks fun. Who isn’t impressed by the amazing acts they see at airshows, from the performance demonstrations of an F-15 climbing straight up into the sky or a formation of F-16s with their wingtips within inches of each other? Read more
A Christian is to be a soldier “marching as to war,” not searching for a safe harbor in which to drop anchor and rest. He is to be in the world, doing the work God would have him do. That work—and the constant spiritual struggle it presents—can be unbelievably fatiguing. The daily struggle to live the Christian life while nearly being overwhelmed wears on a Christian’s spiritual, emotional, and even physical being. If after fighting not to be overwhelmed he spends his remaining energy recuperating from spiritual fatigue, he has little energy left for personal growth and nothing left for assertively professing his faith. Constant bombardment in a hostile environment quickly wears a Christian out, and it tends to put him on the defensive, rather than the offense for Christ he would desire. He may be in the world, but if his efforts are focused on not getting drowned by it, he’s not doing much in the way of saving those around him. Read more
“Remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death.” James 5:20
While the fighter pilot environment causes a Christian to make reactive moral choices, what about a Christian fighter pilot who wants to exercise his faith? Can he actively witness to his fellow pilots? Can a Christian fighter pilot evangelize his fellow fighter pilots?
Prior to 2004 the Air Force had no official policy on most matters regarding religion other than prohibitions against discrimination. It was a vague but simple matter, then, for a Christian fighter pilot to live his life with wisdom, tact, and discretion. So long as he didn’t beat his fellow pilots about the head and shoulders with the Bible he would create no grounds for official complaints.
The religious culture in the Air Force has changed, however, Read more