YOU’RE in the ARMY Now
The battle belongs to the Lord
A few weeks ago Marcus, one of the elders at King’s was preaching on the story of David and Goliath, which inspires faith in a mighty God.
I decided to review the passage before the Sunday and ended up writing a song on it.
The song went down pretty well, so it could be one for the next album (releasing it in June)
If I look at the songs I’ve written, the topic of battle and fighting seldom come up. Mostly grace, mercy and love of God. I have written a number on Jesus’ sovereignty, greatness and reign but never battle. Some may feel uncomfortable with war analogies.
I also probably don’t relate too much to the theme, however, just because I don’t relate, doesn’t mean it is not a viable spiritual image and reality in the bible. History proves that war is part of this fallen world. It is not an antiquated concept, but a very present reality for many.
We need to read scripture as it appears, not as we want it to appear.
I remember Terry Virgo saying that the Christian life isn’t like a war, it is a war.
We cannot escape the battle theme … but before I continue, FYI- here’s a little anecdote from my life regarding being in the army.
Excuse this lengthy tangent
Evan- in the army now
I, having being brought up under the apartheid regime in South Africa, was under the law of conscription and had 2 years of military service to complete. Most teenagers leaving school nowadays have to worry about what they’re going to do for their gap year. No chance of that for us white males in apartheid SA. I guess if you’re running a country by suppressing the majority with a 15% of the population minority group, if it was even that, then you have no choice but to boost your military to contain the masses with conscription. It is hard to believe that this was the case and that I was a pawn in it all.
As a kid, I didn’t give much thought to it really. Life is life, and if your parents and your immediate society weren’t making too much noise about it, then it must be okay. Living under the dreaded “group areas act” meant that “apartheid” translated –“separation”, really was the deal and any non-whites were somewhat foreigners to us, apart from our maids and gardeners who were there to serve us!
To be fair, I do have clear recognition of my father refusing to sing our national anthem …particularly in Afrikaans and always wondered what that was all about. I do remember never understanding why there were “Whites Only” signs …or “Blankes Alleenlik” at our beaches, trains, buses, public toilets or any public places etc. But what was there to complain about in sunny South Africa … until the day of leaving school brought the harsh reality of wasting 2 years of my life. In essence being sent to prison for a crime I had not committed (only benefitted from ie. apartheid!) I remember as I was maturing and approaching the big world, my Christian conscious was at play. I recall writing a song during an English matric exam, called “communicate” …I should try find it and put it on for you. What a laugh! It’s very 80’s, but essentially the song was :
“Oh let’s communicate, you know that I can’t wait
Till we can get together and we can talk forever” …
There was a real recognition of …things aren’t right, why this division and separation? (No wonder I didn’t get a great mark!!!)
Nevertheless, I decided no ways; I’m not going to the army. That was too daunting. Leaving home and forced to live in the middle of no where in 40 degree temperatures, running around with a rifle and being shouted at in Afrikaans every day with hundreds of strangers, eating food from an army mess (we often found rats tails etc. in our food!).
So they were offering teacher’s bursaries to study. That’s when I decided, hey, teaching’s not too bad a qualification. I loved sport and could see myself as a PE teacher. Even though my passion was music, I couldn’t see music ever being a viable, sustainable job for the future. Also, if I lived at home, the bursary would mean I was coming out with a profit and I could by music gear! Yeah!
So teaching it was, it bought me 4 years, and things were hotting up in SA politically – not a good time to go to the military cause you were bound to find action on the borders and the chances of being blown up by a land-mine or being shot by some so-called commy terrorist was very real. “Die Swart or “Rooi Gevaar” (Red/Black Danger)- I can never remember which it was, the regime led us to believe we were fighting communism(Reds) .
So I bought some time and delayed the inevitability of the SADF. Some people went to university and never left until conscription had ended. Some ran away and left SA’s shores. Some refused and went to prison or later had to do 6 years community service.
I never thought it would end. The army was inevitable. I chose not to think about it too much until 4 years later, there I was, graduated, wanting to get on with my life and 2 years of nothingness, having to leave my lovely girlfriend, Tracy. Destined for becoming a junior leader –lieutenant, as I was a qualified teacher, I was automatically leadership material and was destined for the semi-desert 40 degrees in the shade “military School” of Oudstshoorn, famous for it’s Ostrich farms and the Cango caves nearby – not that I got close to ever seeing either. Anytime free time given – you got outta there!
[Being loaded – good- bye Cape town, long hair, freedom. Check my weapon ... the guitar on my back]
I heard the amazing news that conscription was being reduced from 2 years to 1 year.
What a relief. I was fortunate to have secured a teaching job for my return in 2 years and now it was only 1 year of separation from beautiful Tracy, so I thought.
My start date was in the January, but due to the sudden change for the new “intake”, there were varying rumours of the date. My friend, Greg Sneddon who was also heading for Oudsthoorn, decided we would take the latest date possible and went for the February intake.[Farewell. Tracy, me, Greg, Karen, mom with the classy shades, Mike Irving]
I could bore you with loads of “army” stories, but to cut an already way too long a tangent short. A miracle happened.
The day of my graduation
There was an upside and downside to that. Actually 2 upsides. Because I was a qualified and “employed” teacher with an existing teaching post, I was paid as a teacher.Good thinking batman. But also due to the confusion, I got a months pay for not working, as we only entered in Feb.
The downside was that Greg and I missed the teacher’s intake in Jan. and ended up in a “school-leaver’s” intake with a company of 16-18 year old army career wannabees. So we were saddled with the keen beans, not the disinterested teachers company. This meant that everything was a competition with the youngsters trying to prove themselves. For example, when being sent to run and fetch a leaf off a tree, you don’t sprint to get there first, if you do the, corporal sends everyone back again for going too slowly. You do it as a group, at the same pace, so that a standard is set and no one stands out. …they didn’t really get the mentality. So lots of running, crawling, bed making at 4:00 am was had by GOLF company.
An upside to being in Golf company and being in a dorm of 4 other older guys with degrees, was that we were in some ways respected by the others, even the corporal sometimes, although Greg and I stood out like sore thumbs as we were the only English speaking guys in the company, the rest all Afrikaans. So it was all a huge culture-shock. Literally felt like prison in some foreign country! Fortunately I understood the language but loved pretending that I struggled to understand and speak it. I was adamant to hang on to my Englishness and not participate with what was considered the language of the oppressor!
When it was my chance to do the drills, I would translate the commands directly from Afrikaans to English. One was …” Met elmboe tussen ruimtes” … “With elbows between spaces”. Just didn’t sound right in English , and no one understood me. This didn’t make the authorities happy and I often got screamed at, but you had to make as much a joke of the situation as you could to keep your sanity.
After the first week of medicals, hoping that they would find something medically or mentally wrong with me, hoping to be discharged, the 2nd week was the CRUNCH for me.
We were issued with our rifles. This was a shock. Up until that point, this was just a jail sentence. Now I was being given a weapon. Although it was a hot topic, I had never really bothered confronting the issue of Christians and war etc. I always thought, when the time arrives I’ll get it over with, without too much fuss and just get on with my life. (although, you were still expected to do a month of “camps” every year post military service). I didn’t want to entertain 6 years of community service or jail … not for me.
In your basic training, they give you 10 or so weeks of lessons every day, some in classrooms, some in the bush. Why basics was in summer –who knows?
Our lessons always started with …” Die doel van hierdie les” with an Afrikaans corporal reluctantly translating it into English …being “The goal of this lesson” … and then off into Afrikaans he would ramble.
But this first lesson is what caused all the problems for me.
They basically stated our purpose for being in the army, which was – to find and kill the enemy in whatever way possible. GULP ! It dawned on me – I’m being trained to be a killer. This did not sit well. Particularly as our war was not a war worth fighting.
Now without going into the whole just war debate and pacifist, I had weeks of struggle and eventually handed in a statement of objection to carrying a weapon. I was applying for non-combatant status as a religious objector. Although much of it could have been argued as political objection, this was not the route to go. I was not prepared to go to jail for this nonsense, when my objections were founded on primary religious issues, but in SA could you ever really separate the two. I had to make sure I had, and believed in the biblical grounds for it. For me, the issue was also around who is our enemy really. The ultimate reality for me was, as a follower of Christ, I could not justify being trained to kill people! My Spirit did not witness with it. Hey, I’m not judging anyone. That’s how I was lead by the Holy Spirit.
I had to plead my case in a court of law, using a valid biblical argument for it. One of the objectors actually got denied for not proving sufficient grounds or demonstrating conviction about his beliefs. Interesting. I even had to have my pastor, Jeff Kidwell, fly up as a witness on my behalf. Hectic.
The crazy thing about this was that they forced me to carry my rifle and do all the training until I had received my non-combatant status, which was near the end of basic training anyway. I did however refuse to shoot the weapon, which they fortunately allowed. Some friends and family supported me, some objected, but I had to in honesty be true to my conscience. Considering the context I do believe it was the right thing to do. I was obviously removed from the officer’s programme after basics and was placed in HQ Company (admin), working in a store. It did come with its own difficulties but in the end I was blessed by getting a post back home in Cape Town under the Chaplain’s services. Absolute miracle. I was home in 6 months, spent the rest of the year working in a Coffee bar
for the Chaplain. Spent most of my time playing the guitar, composing, reading and sadly watching the 6:00pm soap “Loving” every day. Then served coffee and rusks, witnessed, fellowshipped, prayed, led bible studies and then slipped out of the gates at 9:00 pm to sleep at home. Not really allowed to, but my bed at the base was neatly made – ready for an inspection, which never happened. Okay, I have to throw this in. The uniform you see, never got washed! Everyday, I’d enter the base in “civies” (Civilian clothes)and change into the uniform. My job wasn’t very active, so would take it off, place it neatly on the chair and get back into my civies. Lucky it was only 6 months. I must say, I could have done another year like that, getting paid a teacher’s salary, writing songs, ministering …all on the government!
So what has this blog been about. I’ve had fun reminiscing!
Anyway … Oh yes ..the song
“The battle belongs to the Lord” Regardless of my take on war and my feelings about violence etc., war and battle is a real biblical concept. We are told
EX 15:3 The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.
ISA 42:13 The LORD will march out like a mighty man,
like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
and will triumph over his enemies.
JER 20:11 But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior;
so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
their dishonor will never be forgotten.
Eph 612 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
We are called the army of God, We are in a spiritual war. Revelations is full of battle images. I’m happy to pick up the weapons described in Ephesians 6. Our war is not carnal. Let’s fight and be courageous warriors along with our great warrior Jesus. Mighty is His name!