I have two nephews who have enlisted. One in the Marines, and one in the Navy. The one who is going to the Navy has struggled as a Christian for a very long time. He is easily swayed; he is a follower and gives in easily to peer pressure. I am very concerned for him. I think he joined up because he mainly wants to get out of the house. I am very worried that he is going to have a hard time remaining faithful in these circumstances. I wondered if you might have some advice for him and for my other nephew before they leave for boot camp. What do they do in regards to worship services? What if there isn't a sound congregation nearby? We got into a discussion last week about whether you should partake of the Lord's Supper if you are the only one?
I know that Christians can and do remain faithful and serve our country. But, I am sure it is a very hard way to go, especially when it is a young person who struggles to remain faithful in regular day-to-day life.
Almost everything depends on the dedication of the Christian who is going into the service. "Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:23-26).
If a Christian makes service to the Lord his or her top priority, then things will tend to work themselves round the problems that will naturally arise. But if a person is willing to compromise, the compromises will never end.
While in boot camp, the first few weeks are completely booked. After that they start to ease up. They can't get off base, but there are services on base. Just about every boot camp training area has services held by a church of Christ. Usually it is one of the institutional brethren, but for those few weeks such a difference isn't going to matter. What matters is having an opportunity to worship God.
At each base assignment, all one needs to do is find the nearest congregation. When my son knew where he was going, I just started asking around and quickly found the nearest congregation. They were very used to young soldiers coming into the area. Usually the first week or two is locked up so they can't go off base, but again there is usually a group on base that will do in a pinch. Once freedom to leave the base is available, a phone call will arrange a ride to services -- and often a home cooked meal before you have to return to the base. But it is not going to automatically happen. The Christian has to take the initiative.
Foreign assignments are a bit worse. Finding other Christians is a bit more difficult. On many posts, there are Christians who join together, but they are of a variety of persuasions. The need to worship often pulls them together. Discussions get very interesting because of the diverse backgrounds, but often it gets everyone searching their Bibles.
Naval assignments are very difficult because a Christian will be off for months at a time with only a limited number of people and the likelihood that there will be one or more additional Christians on the same ship gets slim. Still, I know a number of men who were converted in the Navy. When you don't have much else to do in your spare time, Bible discussions get popular.
When one finds himself alone, options for worship is limited. Since the Lord's Supper is meant to be taken as a congregation sharing the memory of the Lord's death together (I Corinthians 10:16-17), it is really not something a person can do alone, though I won't fault a person who strongly desires to do so. But again, the Christian must drive himself to take advantage of every opportunity he has to meet with fellow Christians.
In some ways it will be a time of strengthening one's resolve. Being able to see and worship with Christians around the world will bring a joy to one's personal worship that you never knew was missing. Finding out that you have brothers and sisters in the least expected places becomes a treasured memory that lasts a lifetime. There are brethren who will bend over backwards to help you no matter where you are -- but only if they know you are there and you put some effort into being with them. I think the saddest thing I see are young service men who drop in and when someone asks when they arrived, "Oh, I'm been here about three months." You know you will rarely ever see that person, and you know they won't do much for the congregation nor will the congregation be able to do much for them. But there are others whom I treasure in my heart, who arrived on Saturday and were at Bible study the next morning. Those are Christians you know are going somewhere and are going to take others with them. The ties with them remain even though they have long since moved on, even after their military career has ended.
The close camaraderie in service can be a blessing in friendships and a danger when a bad apple is in the bunch. Drinking, drugs, pornography, and sex are severe problems in the service because it tends to not be isolated events. The armed forces work hard to limit the danger because it affects their ability to serve, but their tolerance is more lax than a Christian's ought to be. "Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits"" (I Corinthians 15:33) is well illustrated in the service. I remember a strong Christian bemoaning the fact that he was stuck sharing a room for several months before he qualified for his own apartment when he got married. You don't get to choose your roommate. He mentioned that there were times he came in to find his roommate in bed with a woman, actively engaged in sex. Usually roommates try to avoid such "discoveries" but such things happen when you can't control your own schedule. This particular young man survived, but he would be the first to say he wasn't the better because of it.
I've tried through the years to correspond with Christians in the service, but the strong often don't bother because they will make opportunities where they are. The weak don't bother because they will find other things to do. But a person does what he can for those he runs across.