The following is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession:
One small but exciting chapter in my life illustrates that God can use us at the right time and place in our workplaces to build His eternal kingdom. In the spring of 1995 at Fort Hood, Texas, I worked behind the scenes to try to get a small group from my own chapel to attend a Promise Keepers men’s conference. This simple act later developed into a major effort that involved several army chaplains from other chapels on post. We were able to bring a total of 168 soldiers from all ranks, races, and backgrounds to the Houston and Dallas Promise Keepers men’s conferences that year. These events were life-changing for many of these soldiers and their families. It was a real faith-builder for me. Only God could have pulled this off.
It has now been a quarter of a century since these events took place. I would like to provide some more details about how it all came together by the grace of God. I wrote what you are about to read below in the fall of 1995. This story still gives me goose bumps. I do not desire to bring attention to myself. My purpose is to put the spotlight on God’s faithfulness. He supernaturally intervened in numerous ways and worked through ordinary people to make it all come together for His glory.
In 1992, I was a Staff Sergeant, stationed as an Army Recruiter in Fort Collins, Colorado. I attended the Promise Keepers (PK) conference in Boulder with my brother-in-law. The next spring, I was transferred to Fort Hood, so I was unable to attend the ’93 PK Conference in Boulder. When the ’94 schedule was announced, there was going to be six regional PK events, and one of them would be in Denton, Texas in June. Six men from my church, including my pastor, attended with me.
When the Promise Keepers registration brochure came out in late February 1995 announcing thirteen conferences, I was thrilled. I could not get the Houston and Dallas PK Conferences out of my mind, since Fort Hood was located strategically about halfway in-between. I felt called by God to be directly involved in getting some men from my chapel to go. Initially, I envisioned about 20-25 men going to Houston in June and the same number going to Dallas in October. I spent much time in prayer, more than I had ever prayed before. I think that this foundation of prayer was key to what began to unfold.
God began to open doors
God began to bring together a number of individuals and organizations that He would use to make this dream a reality. One of the first things I did was to get in touch with the Texas State PK Office. They gave me the name of someone who was working with churches in the area. I called him, and found out that he was planning to come to Killeen (just outside Fort Hood) that Friday. He wanted to meet me and give me some brochures plus a “bootleg” copy of the PK Conference promotional video.
This was great timing. Earlier in the week, I had stopped in to see the chaplain who was the senior pastor of the Main Post Chapel. I told him about the upcoming conferences. He encouraged me to make an announcement at the monthly men’s breakfast on Saturday. Although my wife and I had only been attending the chapel for two weeks and I didn’t know anyone yet, I sensed that this was a perfect opportunity to be bold and seize the moment (which was the theme of the ’94 PK Conference).
After getting acquainted over coffee and doughnuts, with fear and trembling, I shared my experiences from the previous PK Conferences I had attended in ’92 and ’94 with the 15-20 men who came to the breakfast. Right away, I saw the tremendous potential of this group. I stated that I was willing to help organize a group from the chapel to attend both of the Texas PK Conferences. The chaplain then put the men on the spot and asked them if they were interested in going to Houston or Dallas. Almost everyone said that they were willing to go to one or the other. I was very hopeful that we could get a fairly large group to go to Houston in a few months.
I began to pray consistently and fervently for “the right men, at the right time”. Within a few days, I sensed that my initial vision for 25 men from Fort Hood was too small. With a little effort, and a prayerful strategy to publicize the events, I imagined that 50 men was more reasonable a number to pray for. It was well beyond what I could expect from my chapel alone; I knew I would have to coordinate with the other fourteen chapels on post also. The more I thought about it, the more I because convicted that I needed to wholeheartedly pursue this as my number one ministry. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. God was going to have to work through a lot of other people as well.
The team develops
Over the next month and a half, I was busy making announcements and showing the video at various places, and trying to get information packets sent to all the chapels. I was not seeing many results beyond the Main Post Chapel, but help was on the way. In mid-April, I began to discover the first of many whom the Lord was going to use to bring men to Promise Keepers.
One of the key men that the Lord used was an older gentleman named Paul. He saw the PK Conference promotional video that I showed at the men’s breakfast in February. Paul expressed interest in the conference, but had not said much beyond this when I saw him in Sunday School or chapel. However, this many of few words was a godly man of action.
What I did not know was that Paul was a Colonel, commander of the 2d Armored Division’s Engineer Brigade. He was so impressed with the PK video that he informed his chaplain about it. He directed her to get buses, scholarships, publicity, etc., so that as many men as possible from his brigade, the division, and even men from other units post-wide could take advantage of this opportunity! This good work played a vital role in doubling the number of participants for the Houston PK Conference, and was solely responsible for opening the door for over one hundred men to go to Dallas.
Colonel Dunn’s chaplain got $2,000 approved from the chaplain’s fund for scholarships for Houston. She got the word out, arranged transportation, found lodging in a local church, and paved the way for many men to go. A total of 38 scholarships were used from two from the 2d Armored Division Memorial Chapel and the Main Post Chapel and a few other Soldiers from a local church.
Later, we learned of several other small groups of men who went in addition to the big groups from the Main Post and 2nd Armored Division Memorial Chapel. Altogether, there were fifty men that went to Houston, a direct answer to my prayers. I do not know all the effects that this conference had on each of my brothers. I do know that it had a Major impact (as well as a Sergeant impact, Captain impact, Colonel impact . . .) on our families, our chapels, and the units in which we are assigned.
God placed you right where you are for a purpose
This story reminds me of the story of Esther. She was another ordinary worker whom God used at a critical moment in time to influence those around her. God had a purpose for her life and work. “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
I challenge you to recognize that God in Christ has placed you right where you are are, the right man or woman at the right time to use you to influence your coworkers in small or big ways for eternity.
In part two, I will tell the story of how God brought 118 Soldiers to the Dallas PK Conference. (I invite you to read it here.)
(I also invite you to read another article I wrote and posted on my blog that describes how God brought me to Fort Hood in His perfect timing, illustrating His sovereignty to bring good out of failure.)
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.