- December 20, 2003
- By John Rutledge
As troops fly through DFW Airport,
chaplains offer comfort and aid
By George Henson
DFW INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT--Schedules for jetliners are not the only ones at DFW Airport. Chaplains there believe God prepares divine appointments for them daily.
"There are 45,000 airport employees and an average of 162,000 passengers who come through here each day, so you can see where with that many people there is a definite need for some pastoral care," Chaplain Ruth Trittin said.
That job has only grown since November, when United States soldiers stationed in Iraq have been coming home for 15-day leave. Almost every day, a charter plane brings a group home and another plane takes a group back to duty.
Greeting the inbound group is generally a happy occasion as families are reunited, but the outbound trips bring more angst, explained amother chaplain.
He recalled a soldier who learned while home that his wife was leaving him and was carrying another man's baby. Just before he left, she told him she was going to kill herself, and then she departed in the family car. "And now he's returning to Iraq where he could lose his own life," he said.
When the chaplain asked the soldier if he wanted to pray about the situation, the soldier said he didn't do that much. He did give permission to pray with him, however. "I'm positive I won't know how that all works out, but that sergeant will know," he said.
The chaplain also has watched as many fathers met their infants for the first time while home on leave. He's also watched how difficult it is for those soldiers to give up the baby as they board the plane for Iraq. Some women who have gone full-term have induced labor so their husbands can be present for the birth while home.
"You can imagine how hard that must be for a soldier to leave this daughter he's only just met, especially since he knows what he's going back to," he said.
But it's not only the good things that are hard to leave behind, he pointed out.
"Just name it, and it's happened either while the soldier was gone or during the short stay while they've been home," he said. "Now they're leaving while their family is in total upheaval."
The chaplains give each soldier a copy of the Gospel of John, a prayer request card, a small wooden cross and a granola bar. The chaplains also go onto the plane and say a departing prayer as the troops head back to Iraq.
"Maybe three out of 100" will refuse to take the spiritual aid, he said.
Trittin, who is pursing a master of divinity degree at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth and is a member of Western Hills Baptist Church in Fort Worth, said while she just began ministering at the airport in May, she is sure she will be ministering there a long time.
"The neat thing about being here at the airport is it is an international community with people from around the world here every day," she said. "It really is an international mission field in itself."
Ministry at the airport generally doesn't happen during scheduled events, she said. "It's really neat when one, two or three people happen by the chapel and it's a divine appointment that God has set up to work out his divine mystery in their lives."
Even when people come to the chapel for services, it's a little different, she said, because it's obvious they didn't come to hear the preacher. "They don't know who will be preaching, so you know they must have been drawn by God."
People who visit the chapel come from every part of the world and from all faiths. A guest book at one of the four airport chapels bears signatures from almost every state in the union as well as Nicaragua, Brazil, Italy, England, Switzerland, Bolivia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Peru, Canada, Sweden, Taiwan, Japan, Poland, Zimbabwe, Austria and Cambodia.
With the large number of troop transports, Dallas Baptist Association has begun assisting the ministry by sending some of the chaplains involved in Victim Relief ministry to help.
The large number of troops moving through the airport also has led to the Army to keep an eight-person unit assigned to the airport. They assist the soldiers in making their connecting flights and provide hotel vouchers for those who find themselves stranded overnight with nowhere to stay.
The chaplains try to support this group that works 48-hour shifts, catching sleep whenever possible.
Chaplains normally wear a navy-blue uniform, which when accompanied by an identification badge leads many travelers to assume they are airport employees.
When people ask her for help that's fine with Trittin. "People think we are airport personnel so they ask us a lot of questions, but that's an opportunity so your have to walk around with you spiritual eyes open all the time."
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