Nate Johnson has many passions – including fast cars, serving his country and practicing his religion – but he sees parallels between his religion and his military service.
The 26-year-old Utah native is a devotee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a sergeant in the Marine Corps stationed at Camp Lejeune.
“I have strong morals. I’ve grown up in the church my whole life,” Johnson said. “Morals go hand-in-hand as being a leader.”
For those who view religion as an important part of their life, there are several ways they go about finding their church home while stationed at the Camp Lejeune military base.
Religion and military service
Fellowship Baptist Church Pastor Richard Sutherland said that as a military community, the church is always working to reach the military personnel as they come to the area.
Whether the church is working to reach the transient military population or established residents without a church home, Sutherland said churches have to be willing to evolve.
“If we stay the same we can get into a rut, which we don’t want; we want to encourage people and make them want to come to church,” Sutherland said.
Throughout Onslow County and at Camp Lejeune armed service members have many places in which to worship Christian, Jewish and Muslims faiths, according to base chaplain Capt. J.P. Hedges.
“They find a church home based upon the religion they were raised with as well as where their friends worship, where they live and the types of programs offered by the various churches,” Hedges wrote in an email to The Daily News.
Each Thursday, Johnson and a group of fellow Marines, as well as other young Mormons, gather at the home of Maureen and Bob Scott. The Scotts are also members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Johnson said he was inspired to serve his country when, at the age of 9, he saw the news of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 – but before beginning his military career, Johnson served two years as a missionary.
“I wanted to stand up for my family and my country,” Johnson explained. “Family is a huge, huge thing.”
Praying for strength
Johnson recently led a sermon in front of 15 people seated in the Scotts’ great room. Some held perfectly bound copies of “The Book of Mormon” while others followed along on an electronic version of the scriptures on their smart phones and tablets. The relaxed, albeit structured, sermon lasted about an hour with light refreshments served by Maureen Scott.
Lance Cpl. Mat Doshier, a practicing Mormon who attends the same Bible study group with Johnson, said his three tenets to faith are simple.
“It’s a drive of family, it’s a drive of duty and a love of country,” Doshier said.
Doshier didn’t join the Mormon Church until age 11. After enlisting in 2017, the Oregon native found himself seeking guidance and comfort.
“I prayed in boot camp to survive every day and to roll out of my bed,” Doshier said. “Now I pray for strength.”
And while some seek strength and survival through faith, others draw on the scripture to work out day-to-day challenges.
Lance Cpl. Jacob Campbell is a 20-year-old Marine from Aberdeen, Texas. The practicing Mormon gains solace in his faith.
“My job is very technical and stressful so going to church balances me out with my stress,” Campbell said.
Finding a church home
For those unsure of which house of worship – or those who identify as unaffiliated as to which religion best meets their spiritual needs – the Camp Lejeune base chaplain acts as a guide and facilitator.
Hedges said Camp Lejeune offers “multiple worship services” and encourages people to check the online chapel schedule at Lejeune.Marines.Mil.
“A U.S. Navy Chaplain’s job is to provide for their own denomination that they are endorsed by, facilitate other faith groups, care for all, advise and lead,” Hedges wrote. “Thus, with that in mind, chaplains will refer individuals if requested.”
But even after a Marine or sailor retires or leaves the service, many continue to worship on base or in a house of worship in the nearby community.
Hedges sees many retired Marines still attending services on base.
“Each retiree has a different reason for attending but more often than not it is because the services are what they became accustomed to while on active duty and they simply continued to attend after retirement,” Hedges wrote.
While actual figures are difficult to quantify, Hedges feels societal headwinds are making it difficult for military personnel to practice their faith, but it doesn’t discount the importance of remaining faithful.
“It is always important to practice ones faith; however, it is a little more difficult to do so today than it was a generation ago in view of current social trends,” Hedges wrote.
‘The older you get the more faith you need’
And as Marines and sailors approach the end of their service or prepare retirement, for some, religion continues to be a strong part of their life or something rekindles as they begin a new chapter.
Chris Wood served 20 years retiring as a master sergeant in 2014. The Michigan native was exposed to religion as a young lad but stopped going to church when he was 5 years old. He found himself inside West Coast house of worship as an 18-year-old, but his reasons for being there were not for finding direction from a divine being. He was escaping for a moment from a controlling influence.
“I joined the Marine Corps at age 18 as an absolute heathen. While in boot camp in San Diego, I went to church because that was the only place our drill instructors couldn’t talk to us,” Wood said. “But they’d wait outside when we left the church.”
During his 20 years, Wood stayed away from any organized religion. “There isn’t a lot of time to think about anything,” Wood said.
Wood said when he retired from military service, he sampled several churches until some friends recommended Free Will Chapel Church in Richlands. As he got older, he found religion took on more importance in his life.
“I think the older you get the more faith you need,” Wood said.
© 2018 The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.)
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