01/28/07 — Chaplain will soon serve new flock on battlefields of Iraq

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Chaplain will soon serve new flock on battlefields of Iraq

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 28, 2007 2:01 AM

In a few months, perhaps sooner, Lt. Cmdr. Freddie Barnes, a chaplain in the U.S. Navy Reserves, will be headed to Iraq.

Today he is delivering his last sermon at New Spirit Church Ministries, the William Street church he helped found in 2002.

His plan, he said, is to preach about indebtedness -- both spiritual and physical -- and being rich toward the Lord.

He will be basing his sermon on The Gospel of Luke 12:13-21 -- the story of a man who built up his wealth on Earth, while ignoring his spiritual wealth in God.

Barnes said he wants his congregation to think about and realize where their blessings come from.

"I've tried not to make it all about me," Barnes said as he walked through the church Saturday afternoon where preparations were under way for today's service. "It's clear it's a sermon, but at the end I'll make a more pronounced statement about my indebtedness to others, particularly here at this church.

"The Lord has blessed me with a lot and I realize so many people have been a part of that. I want to acknowledge my indebtedness to the people of New Spirit.

He knows it might be a while before he gets another opportunity.

"I officially resigned the church this weekend. I'll try and be here on weekends or when I can, but this will be my final Sunday," Barnes said. "I'm already activated. Our deployment will probably be a few months away from now, but they're not saying when it'll be.

"It could be up to a two-year deployment, but it'll be no more than a two-year deployment."

Already, though, it's been a difficult journey.

He'll not only be leaving behind his church, but also his wife, Sandra, of 22 years and two sons Jamar, 15, and Jarrus, 18, both Eastern Wayne High School students.

"It's pretty hard," he said. "New Spirit is a special church -- special to me and my family. It's very difficult for me personally and emotionally.

"The peace comes from knowing the Lord. It's something I've thought about and prayed about and the Lord has given me peace. I have no qualms the Lord will take care of the church, just like he'll take care of my family."

So for now, Barnes is just waiting -- waiting, preparing and getting to know the guys he'll be serving with.

"The whole concept of the reserves is to prepare for mobilization," he said, explaining that his training has increased over the last few months.

But after about 20 years in the reserves, it'll be the 50-year-old's first time deploying.

"Funny it's coming now at the end of my journey," Barnes said. "I was just planning on doing 20 (years) and then retiring.

"But I know God is up to something in my life with this so I'll just roll with it and see what the Lord is up to. I'll just roll with it."

He'll be moving out with the 2nd Supply Battalion with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group out of Camp Legeune.

They will be supporting the forward units, he explained, and he will be supporting them.

"Wherever they are, I'll be there," he said. "The big thing is to keep everybody focused on doing their jobs and completing their mission. That's the pastoral end and providing that pastoral support will be key. If the Marines out in the theater are distracted, they can't help with the mission, so it's crucial those needs be met."

And he's not just serving other Christians -- he's responsible for everybody.

"I'm a Christian minister, but as a chaplain in this environment I am to provide for the free expression of religion to whoever, without compromising who I am," Barnes said.

He's also charged with assessing the mental state of the battalion and making sure his superiors are aware of what's going on.

"My other role is as an adviser -- staying in touch with the leadership and making sure the troops are supported in every way they can be," he said.

A graduate of Andover Newton Theological School and endorsed by American Baptist Churches, USA, Barnes believes his training and 21 years of pastoral experience will serve him well in the war zone. But he knows it can't prepare him for everything -- even if he's not actually on the front lines and facing combat.

"By the Geneva Convention, we don't take up arms, so we've got to draw the line between providing support and getting in the way and being a target, but there are risks," he said. "It's a risky environment.

"When I left my job in Kinston (as a counselor at Dobbs Youth Development Center), one of my kids asked me if I was scared. I told him, 'Yeah, I'd be a fool not to be.' But I trust my faith in God and I trust the guys I'm with and I trust my training. That's all I can do."

"I know I'll probably see some things I've never seen before and I know I'm going to have to adjust to seeing those unpleasant things, but my faith is strong and it's resilient.

"I trust I'll be able to minister through that and be effective."