Picture the scene; RN warship returning from a 6 month deployment. Ships crew lining the decks, looking looking looking to make that eye contact with loved ones on the jetty. Then I saw her … my wife Helen with our 7 month old son Ben. As I looked I thought ‘blimey .. she’s gone grey since I’ve been away’ so I lifted my cap and pulled at my hair … thinking ‘you’ve gone grey since I’ve been away’ …. Now her entire focus was on Ben, who I had not seen for 6 months except in photos (pre skype). She thought ‘oh that’s nice, he has noticed that Bens hair colour is the same as his’ so she started waving a seven month baby above her head, on the jetty, as the ship came back, shouting ‘It’s yours ! It’s yours!’ meaning the hair colour ….. you can imagine the reaction on the jetty and the ship …
Separation and homecomings are a huge part of service life … and of course I had a fair few during my 28 years in the RN (like the time it was raining heavily when we came back, I had both of our boys in my arms, walked into the ship, slipped and dropped both lads … nice to see you too Dad!). Anyway, why am I telling you all this? I have now moved on from working directly with the military, and sometimes after a change direction in life it’s a good time to reflect back … for most of my time in the Navy I was what saliors call a ‘Bible basher’ ‘God squad’ you know the sort of thing … I learnt that you can’t take yourself too seriously and need to maintain a sense of humour … because as soon as you do something that is perceived to be not very Christian, your messmates are all over you! Like having one beer too many …..
We were alongside in Rhodes doing a handover for the Bosnia patrol during the 90s. My mate was on the ship that we were taking over from, so we agreed to go ashore for a meal. We had a beer in my mess, then walked down the jetty to his mess, while he went to get changed. Well, we never got ashore. Sat in his mess till about 2 in the morning. I then spent about 40 minutes snaking back up the jetty. By the time I reached our gangway the entire duty watch, most of my mess, the second in charge of the ship and numerous others were on the Flight Deck to watch the lesser spotted ‘Church Chief’ (as I was known) come back on board rather the worse for wear .. never before been seen. I was the talk of the ship the following day. But as a Christian we do get things wrong, we slip up, we make mistakes, we have bad days and shout and even on occasion swear … but do you know what? In my time in the Navy, God never once let me down! I never felt him saying to me ‘you are a failure’ … he did say stuff like ‘could do better’ ‘try harder’ and ‘I understand the challenges you face’ (like many of my reports over the years) … but actually he said ‘I like you a lot … in fact I love you just as you are …’
Being ‘God squad’ on board also had its funny moments, mainly revolving around meeting up with Christians and other churches ashore in some foreign port … once when in Barbados we went to a massive Church, about 4000 in the congregation. The guy on the platform welcomed us ‘the guys from the British warship’, which was great. But he then asked one of us to come and ‘bring greetings’ … as I was ‘the leader’ I was stitched up to go and talk. Now anyone who has been to the Caribbean will know, they all dress up in Sunday best for Church. We didn’t. So there was I, making my way to the platform, in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops (trying desperately to at least get my shorts to cover my knees), when the pastor said ‘here he comes, it’s a shame he didn’t dress for the occasion …’ but the thing I remember about all these occasions is the friendship, welcome and hospitality of Churches and other Christians all around the world. I know it’s a cliché, but I really did have family everywhere I went (not to mention free food and tours around the local area … but that’s not why I met up with these guys honest!!!!).
Apart from visiting other Churches around the world, one of the other things that the RN enabled me to do was run. Lots. In loads of amazing places. But this brought with it some challenges. Over the next few months I will be writing about some of these experiences, and how they relate to life … but for now a couple of short examples. The ship was in La Guira (the port for Caracas). Me and the shipwright (or ‘chippy’) went out for a ten mile run, and as usual the port was in the decidedly dodgy area of town. We came off the ship, out of the port gate and turned right. Looked fine. We were about a mile away from the ship, when chippy said ‘is that gunfire?’. We ran on … then we realised it was getting louder, and as we ran between two apartment blocks it was actually above us … they were shooting at each other across the road … then there was the time we ran up the wrong mountain thinking it was Mount Vesuvius, or getting picked up by the police in Spain while running up a motorway … the list continues. Being a Christian did not make me immune to these things, (in fact most of them were probably my fault … ), and always served to remind me that God does not control me like a robot. He gave me a mind and ‘freewill’ to do stuff my way if I chose, it’s just that sometimes I thought my way was better, and didn’t really think about the consequences …. if you think you are not good enough to be a Christian, or think its all a load of mumbo jumbo … think again, God wants to get to know you just as you are … right now! Give it a go.