News: Minnesota chaplain provides popular night-time ministry
Story by Jerad Alexander
By Master Sgt. Marvin Baker
Joint Force Headquarters
MINOT, N.D. - Talk about an early-morning church service.
First Lt. Daryl Thul, Balaton, Minn., generally starts his Protestant service at 2:45 a.m. Yes, that's 2:45 in the morning.
Oddly enough, Thul, a member of the Minnesota National Guard's 834th Aviation Support Battalion in St. Paul, is getting better attendance in the early morning hours than he does when conducting regular Sunday services.
Thul was called to flood duty in Minot, N.D., in mid July, and in his first briefing to the command, said he would be starting a 2:45 service.
Attendance is good because Thul, and his assistant, Pfc. Matthew O'Brien, take the service to the troops.
"I go to the soldiers and airmen for them to get their faith," Thul said. "I do a Protestant service. I'm not here to proselytize. I'm here to help them worship."
A group of soldiers and airmen called Team Thunder, has been working around the clock in 12-hour shifts, and since the night shift is often left out of what would be a normal Sunday services because they are sleeping, Thul decided to take his message to the work sites.
In the two weeks Thul has been in Minot, he has done his rolling service twice and has done two traditional services. But to quantify that, he said the service has been repeated seven times and he has had well over 100 soldiers and airmen worship.
"When soldiers and airmen need some Jesus, I take about 15 minutes and we pray, we preach and we bless. Singing is the bonus," Thul said. "When they're working 12-hour shifts, they're not going to take an hour, but leadership will certainly give the time for the rolling service. Most soldiers and airmen are content with 15 minutes."
On Thursday, July 28, North Dakota National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk coined Thul for his innovate way of getting the faith to the troops. A humble Thul said the rolling service has actually been around a long time, he is just putting a modern twist on it.
"It's the old standard," he said. "When we went to annual training, there was no way to get a battalion service because of all the moving parts and that's where it comes from. There's no new idea here."
Thul continued, saying the logistics of getting all the troops together is often a challenge and this is a transition that works well.
"Without a battle rhythm, you've got to find a way for soldiers and airmen to worship," Thul said. "So, we started the rolling service."
In each nighttime service, he makes sure that he gets a religious message to the troops in his short time span. Sometimes, the message may be harsh. He said the Bible has many stories that don't have a positive ending.
"Children get the watered-down version," he said. "We should teach adults the whole message. As chaplain, I can give the same message as in a church. The difference is, the highest rating in the church is PG. In uniform, I can give that story an R rating. I'm able to use the entire spectrum of Bible stories."
And when he blesses the troops, he rolls up his left sleeve and presents a tattooed cross on his forearm, rather than carrying a crucifix to the overnight services.
"I can bless," he said as he held up his arm. "When you see this, you know you got some Jesus."
Thul, who is a Lutheran pastor in charge of two parishes in southwestern Minnesota, said he was an enlisted soldier for 11 years and has made a lot of the same mistakes as young troops.
"So I've got a line on them," he said. "I know they haven't always made the best decisions and it helps me connect with them."
Now a first lieutenant, Thul gets his strength from interacting with the soldiers and airmen. He said his message to them is sometimes "in your face" in order to get the message out, but it's a message that transcends generations.
Thul and his assistant, Pfc. Matthew O'Brien, have been getting out into the Minot neighborhoods to minister to the troops on patrol and to visit residents, some who have lost everything they own in a record flood on the Souris River in June.
He said the devastation is heart wrenching and sincerely hopes the people of Minot get back on their feet soon.
"You start questioning, 'God where are you?'" he said. "At the same time, church missions are going into houses and working. God is with us. I see God working here and it's so powerful."
He quoted Job 3 from the Bible. "'The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.'"
Thul said Job had a rough life, similar to what many people in Minot are going through right now, yet he was faithful through the worst circumstances and God remained with him because of his faith.
Thul said he sees God at work in the people of Minot. He said everyone he has met has been friendly and courteous and their attitudes have been much better than anyone would expect.
"They've been through a lot and they're still positive," he said. "Coming to North Dakota is coming to the Lutheran mecca."