BAGRAM, Afghanistan – When U.S. Army Chaplain (Capt.) John Hoos arrived at Bagram Air Field to begin his deployment with Task Force ODIN, he soon learned of an opportunity to facilitate weekly worship for a unique religious group.
“When I arrived, I was told that this opportunity existed, and I immediately volunteered for this tasking,” the chaplain who is attached to 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Falcon, 10th Mountain Division, said.
According to Joseph Story, a Pakistani Christian who works as a safety officer on Bagram Air Field, there are about 50-60 Pakistani Christians on the base. The group was unable to conduct their worship services in a military chapel due to a military regulation that requires all religious groups to have a distinctive faith group leader.
“Chaplain Hoos’ volunteering to lead a group which represents a minority in Pakistan, enables their growth in their faith,” said U.S. Army Chaplain (Maj.) William Scritchfield, the Task Force Falcon chaplain and a native of Waynesburg, Pa. “He’s a perfect fit. His denomination is similar to theirs and he has a gift for learning languages. He’s quickly picked up their language and is able to more readily facilitate their bible study.”
At a recent weekly worship gathering, eleven worshipers gathered around Story, who had the only song book in Punjabi; a dialect of Pakistan’s official language - Urdu. And though not everyone could see the book, all knew the words and quickly picked up the Punjab-influenced tune.
With Najam Aslam, a general supervisor on Bagram, translating between Hoos and those who were not fluent in English, Hoos led a bible study with a focus on the importance of keeping God’s laws and how these laws keep followers on the best path to lead a righteous life.
More songs were sung, communion was celebrated, and after a closing prayer, members wished each other peace, departed the chapel and mingled outside.
Despite being in war-torn Afghanistan, the quality of life for these Christians is much better than in their homeland, said Aslam.
“It is very difficult for Christians to get good jobs in Punjab because we are a minority,” he said. Despite being well-educated, many are limited to working as general laborers. The most lucrative jobs – those in government – are out of reach for most Christians. Punjab is the most populous region of Pakistan and lies along the border of India and Kashmir.
Story is a teacher by trade. But in Pakistan, he makes the equivalent of about $45 a month. Meanwhile, working for a sub-contractor on Bagram Air Field, he is making over $1,000 a month.
Becasue Pakistan suffered from recent earthquakes and floods, many Pakistanis have left the country to find better wages.
Hoos, form Loveland, Colo., said he is fortunate to have this opportunity to assist this unique group. One might think a chaplain’s main duty is directing others how to worship; but sometimes chaplains must assist groups in worshiping according to its traditions. This is one of those instances.
“As a chaplain working in a combat zone, I believe it is my responsibility to help soldiers and civilians who are living and working far from home to have the opportunity to worship God according to their customs and traditions,” said Hoos before stepping out to mingle with his new group. “This is a very unique aspect of being a chaplain.”