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When I joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), I was hoping to fulfill three personal needs: a thirst for adventure, an opportunity to serve the broader community, and a chance to connect with a younger generation. All in all, my role as a Chaplain in the Primary Reserves has helped me fulfill these needs. At the same time, after six years in the same Regiment (The Rocky Mountain Rangers), I have been itching for something new. So when an opportunity came up for an overseas task I was more than willing to go.  

While it might be a stretch to say that Session was equally excited by this opportunity, they understood my need to stretch my wings, and believed that St. Andrew’s could manage in my absence. Session and then Presbytery granted me an unpaid leave for a month and soon I was heading to Cologne, Germany. There I would be joining a team in facilitating a Third-Location Decompression (TLD) for members who had been on tour in the Middle East.  

Most overseas tours last around half a year. Members leave family and loved ones and immerse themselves in a mission in harsh and restricted environments. Even when bullets are not flying the separation and dislocation creates hardship both for the member overseas and the family back home.  

TLD is intended to provide soldiers with a controlled environment to blow off steam, receive support, and prepare for reintegration into the rhythms of life back home. Practically speaking this involved putting these members in hotels, providing them with briefs on reintegration, giving them ample opportunities for leisure (go-kart racing, city tours, restaurant recommendations), and offering 24-7 support to those who needed it.  

As a chaplain I offered the usual support: I scheduled time for Christian mini-chapels and meditation, and my number was made available for those who wanted to talk. A few took me up on these offers.  

Most of my real work was done informally. I made myself available for conversations at city tours, while people were lounging, or while they were waiting. I asked people about their experiences and gave them opportunities to unpack some of their experiences. I also had the opportunity to support those on my team. Here the conversations went a little deeper into stories about disappointment and success, about doubt and belief. Most members were thoughtful and articulate, and it was a real privilege to share in their lives and to offer an uncommon perspective.

I am grateful for this mini adventure. I believe that I was able to help some people even as I expanded my own horizons. Thanks to everyone at St. Andrew’s for your support and for partnering with me in this work. 

* picture shows Steve at the Hohenzollernbrücke "Love Locks" Bridge in Cologne 

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