Last month I posted Part 1 of Rhonda Joyner’s interview. Rhonda is the wife of Patrick, ARBCA’s Chaplain to the Navy. In part 2 we get learn more specifics about the life of a Chaplain wife, tours, future plans, persecution, and how ARBCA works to support them. Again, if you have any questions you’d like to ask Rhonda please comment below or on my FaceBook page. I will be finishing up with her in one more short interview probably after Christmas.
3) You use the term tour a lot, can you explain what that means for us civilians and how long a tour is?
Well, the term ‘tour’ is an old military term. It means several things. When someone says they served 3 tours in Iraq, that means they deployed there 3 times. When I say our next tour is in Texas, that means that’s our next duty station, and our whole family will move there.
For the Navy, you usually rotate back and forth between ‘sea duty’ and ‘shore duty’. This means the Marine or Sailor changes jobs every 2-3 years. This will involve moving to a different base, usually. Some bases are large enough to change jobs (billets or duty station) and stay at the same base. Sea duty is typically 2 years long (2 ½ years with marines) and means that the sailor is operational and can or will deploy (with Marines or on a ship/submarine). Shore duty is typically 3 years long and you would be in a non-operational billet. You might volunteer to deploy, but you would not expect to deploy on shore duty.
In Patrick’s case, he has had only 1 shore duty in his career, as most of the Marine billets are operational. (The Navy provides chaplains for the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.) A non-operational chaplain billet would often involve preaching at the base chapel or serving at the hospital or a training command like boot camp. When a Navy chaplain is in an operational billet, he goes where his unit goes. So a chaplain to the Marines, like Patrick, deploys with ‘his’ Marines, trains with ‘his’ Marines, stands duty, goes where they go and physically trains the same way. (65 pushups, 85 sit-ups, each event under 2 minutes, and a 1.5 mile run under 9 ½ min.) When we began this interview, he was serving with 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment here at Camp Lejuene. Patrick was promoted in September to Navy Commander, which is the equivalent to Lt. Colonel in the Marines. At that time he moved to 10th Marine Artillery Regiment here at Camp Lejeune. This was an example of changing billets (jobs) while still at the same base. This regiment has 2 battalions of about 1200 Marines. Patrick supervises, mentors, and provides support for the battalion chaplains, while counseling and ministering to his own regimental headquarters ‘flock’ of about 500 Marines and Sailors of all ranks. He just returned from 2 weeks out in the field on artillery and training exercises, in tents with MREs. (Meals Ready to Eat…yum…not)
4) How do you manage while Patrick is on tours that take him away from the family for extended periods of time?
By God’s grace and power! There would be no other way. God gives me His strength and I am so thankful. The times that I struggle, are the times when I have not made myself available to access His strength and power. I try daily to ask for wisdom and ask to be wrapped in His righteousness. God has apparently gifted me with a personality or attitude in life that allows me to help our family thrive in this expeditionary lifestyle. Like Paul in Philippians 4, I claim those verses and try always to practice being content and teach my children to choose contentment, realizing God puts us in a place or position for a reason and we should be about his Kingdom living while we are there. I have loved our lifestyle and expect to miss it!
Practically, some of the management while Patrick is away looks like holding him up in our family as still parenting, by asking, “What would Papa do or say?” Or with encouragement, “Papa will be so proud of you!” I talk of him constantly to our children to keep him daily ‘with us’. I pray and read scripture even more when he is gone. We continue with our evening family worship. Email has been helpful to stay in daily contact. The children and I can still ‘talk’ to him, ask questions or even play chess by email. He calls when he can, and he tries to time those calls to be able to pray with us over the speaker phone to start our day or end our day. He sends updates that include the sermons he preaches so we can hear them too. (He offers worship services at different times and days when deployed, to help as many men be able to attend as possible.) Especially when we had toddlers we kept his picture scrolling on the computer screen and we also have tapes he made of himself reading all the Psalms and Proverbs so that we still have his voice reading us these daily scriptures. He also recorded himself reading books and would strum his guitar for us to turn the pages.
We have other deployed wives and children over during deployments and continue to practice hospitality regularly. I usually offer a time of fellowship and study for the Marine wives whose husbands are also deployed. We have more child/teenage hospitality during this time as well. We travel to see Grandparents. We carry on, and we embrace our family motto: HOLD FAST! (Phil 2:16, Rom 12:9, 1 Thess 5:21)
5) Was it difficult having him deployed during the 1st Gulf War? Did that change you and your relationship in any way when he came home? (If this is too personal a question, no problem.)
The most difficult part of Patrick’s deployment to the 1st Gulf War (as a nuclear submarine officer), was the strong, constant ‘out of the loop’ feeling he experienced and to deal with the desire he had to be physically present and caring for his family as our protector, yet not being able to. It was very hard on him to hear on the phone (when we got to talk on the phone) about life going on back home without him. Phone calls, while encouraging to me, where less so for him for that reason. No personal computers back then!
For the deployed, there are no days off and no opportunity to be intimately involved in the lives of those loved ones closest to you. While often, for the wife or family left at home more opportunities open up for them to have fellowship with friends, family, church, or military unit as a way to make the time pass quickly and keep their spirits up. If a wife doesn’t think about it (which I didn’t the first time), it could unintentionally sound to the deployed husband like they are missing out, and that their absence has not made much impact. Of course, this is far from the truth. But, it remains a difficult balance to communicate with the husband that on the one hand, their family is safe, healthy, strong and doing well, while on the other hand making sure they understand how much they are missed and loved, that nothing is ‘just right’ with them gone, and that they are loved more than ever.
One issue to deal with is during deployments the wife necessarily is the family leader and decision maker, and so in the days after the husband’s return, it is very important for her to hand that responsibility back to her husband and for him to accept it. With that said, the biggest development in mine and Patrick’s relationship through deployments and long work hours has been to make us very jealous of our time together, both as husband and wife back during those first deployments, and now as a family. Patrick was originally a submarine officer and was gone more than he was home during our first 4-5 years of marriage. This caused us to consider very carefully any invitation or activity and weigh it against time spent together.
Another benefit of deployments and this expeditionary lifestyle has been to strengthen our marriage and family relationships. It can also break your marriage, but for us, clinging to God to use these times to grow us in him and with each other, we are definitely stronger. We’ve had many more homecomings and honeymoons than most people! For which I am most thankful! Our relationship stays more vibrant. We learn quickly not to take each other for granted, because we may only have today. Of course that is a lesson for everyone. We have passed this on to our children and they have mostly depended on each other for their best friendships. We do everything together as a family. We are the Joyner Crew and we move and act as a team, in ministry, in fun and in work. You will most often see us together. We enjoy each other immensely and cherish our time together.
6) Does Patrick plan to retire from the military? What are your plans after Patrick retires?
Yes, Patrick plans to retire from the military. Patrick’s heart is a pastor’s heart, and he wants to pastor a church again. This would be a good place to correct a possible misconception. Pastor friends or others have periodically responded to Patrick’s desire to pastor after the military, as, “so you will be getting back into ministry”. No. He has never left the ministry so how could he ‘get back into it’. He has spent 17 years of his life in ministry to the military and their families, counseling, sharing the gospel, planning and executing charitable humanitarian work of the ship’s crew along the west coast of Africa to orphans and schools, spoken and preached at countless memorial services and national day of prayer services, doing marriage counseling, funerals, doing casualty assistance calls to tell families their husband, son or father has been killed, prison visits, suicide prevention, preaching, leading countless bible studies and book studies, all as the parish pastor to the command with which he serves. He prayerfully hopes to continue this work in a local church and community of the Lord’s choosing.
7) Is it helpful to be an ARBCA Chaplain?
We have much more prayer support and are closer to congregations than many mission sending organizations and than we ever experienced before our ARBCA endorsement. We greatly appreciate the emphasis on church-sent missionaries and the personal relationship, accountability and prayer support that connection has fostered. ARBCA represents us theologically and also provides protection and representation ecclesiastically concerning issues that arise in the chaplain ministry.
Follow Up Question: Is there anything we as the churches can do to help you more?
We have been very pleased with the encouraging support we have received from churches. There is not typically much emphasis or interest in Chaplain ministry, but we have some very faithful ARBCA women’s missionary groups that are faithful prayer warriors for us, faithful to send us cards and care packages to our college students and we feel their love. Churches sometimes donate money to purchase books for the studies and for Patrick to give away. Patrick has preached and shared about his ministry periodically when churches have invited him to speak. Our family enjoys developing these relationships face to face and are thankful for these opportunities to thank congregations for their prayers and to include them in what Patrick and our family are doing. We have heard from many churches that they pray regularly for us through the prayer guides ARBCA provides, and we are very thankful for this support. Prayer is the work!
8) Do you deal with or face any persecution?
Patrick says, “It is professionally unpopular to be exclusive with the gospel, just like any pastor, particularly as regards trinitarian religion. All chaplains can still preach without restriction. Praying in Christ’s name sometimes bothers chaplains more than others. They believe it is a sign of immaturity to pray in the name of Christ. This has not been an issue in the Marines, like it sometimes is on the Navy side. Only about twice has someone voiced their offense at my prayers in Christ’s name. How it affects your career professionally depends on who is present and what they decide to do about it. Much more often, people have said they appreciated that I actually prayed in the name of Christ.”
Follow Up Question: How receptive is the typical Marine/Sailor to the Gospel?
Again from Patrick, “In the Marines, where I have spent all but one Chaplain tour, pride, machismo, and a pay check often make them less receptive to the gospel as they don’t perceive a need. Most have never heard the gospel. Most have had events in their lives that harden them, but there are certainly those who are receptive. I am there for them, and also invest much time and discipleship mentoring young men as well as younger chaplains. It is very rewarding to work in the trenches.”
9) Are any of your children planning on following in Patrick’s footsteps by joining the military?
Our oldest son, William, did look a bit into the military and our commanding general offered to nominate him for the Naval Academy but he really felt God calling him into missions, particularly in Mongolia.
So, “Yes” some of our children do expect to follow in their father’s footsteps, but in ministry rather than the military!
…For by my God I can leap over a wall… Ps 18:29
I appreciate Rhonda’s willingness to be open about her life, both the struggles and the beauties, in this interview. Getting to know both Rhonda and Sharon has helped me be better equipped to pray for them and their husbands. It has helped me to see that godly women are godly women in any setting the Lord puts them in. I’m encouraged to keep my own hand to the plow in my life by seeing them busy about their own.