Interview: Chaplain’s Wife Rhonda Joyner (Part 2)

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.


 

Rhonda Joyner

Rhonda Joyner

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)

Chaplain Joyner heading off to work or deployment.

Chaplain Joyner heading off to work on deployment.

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)

Home from Afghanistan!

Home from Afghanistan!

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

A new Joyner added to the Family.

A new Joyner added to the Family.


 

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.

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Interview: Chaplain’s Wife Rhonda Joyner (Part 1)

Earlier in the year, I had the great privilege of interviewing Sharon Galyon, wife of James Galyon, ARBCA’s Air Force Chaplin. We had a wonderful time catching up over coffee and I learned so much about how to pray for them and the work that they do. Today, I’m sharing Part 1 of my interview with Rhonda Joyner, wife of  Patrick Joyner, ARBCA’s Navy Chaplin serving the Marines. I’m so thankful for Rhonda’s willingness to make time for me and all my readers in the middle of her busy schedule, but I’m even more thankful for the new friend I have found in her.


Rhonda Joyner

Rhonda Joyner

1) Can you give me a brief account of your salvation, and a bit of family history, i.e. marriage, kids, Patrick becoming a Chaplain?

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian family with a long Christian heritage. My Baptist parents led me to the Lord as an elementary student and I was baptized in our Southern Baptist congregation in Ward, AR. They modeled mission and charity and volunteer work both in church and the community, taught me the importance of daily devotions, bible reading and prayer, taught me to be an active, responsible church member and to give to others both time and money. They taught me to always rely on the Lord and look to Him for everything: needs, comfort, encouragement, security and safety, a future husband, decision making, etc.

I received a Bachelor of Science degree from Ouachita Baptist University (’87) in Arkansas and a Master’s of Science from Memphis State University (’89) in Tennessee. While in Memphis, God providentially brought Patrick into my life. We met, singing in the choir at Bellevue Baptist church. This is indeed Providential because my hometown at the time happily numbered about 800, my college about 1500 and now I was in a huge city in a huge school attending a church of about 20,000 coming from a church of about 40! Ephesians 3:20-21 came to new importance and meaning to me through this. I was quite biased about ‘city folk’ and to my surprise God gave me in Patrick an outstanding (and good looking) Eagle Scout, avid outdoorsman, fearless leader and most importantly, the most Godly earnest young man I had ever met.

God used the teaching of Proverbs in my girls college class at church to turn the tide of my career seeking, ladder climbing, doctoral plans so that by the time Patrick proposed and sought a wife who would be a stay at home mother to their eventual children, my spiritual journey had prepared me, just in time (as God always is), to joyfully and wholeheartedly assent.

Patrick and I courted for a month before he left for Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island for 4 months, fulfilling his training obligations to become a Naval Submarine officer. We were engaged when he returned for 3 months, then he left for Nuclear Power School for 6 months and we were married the week after that! Once aboard his assigned sub at Portsmouth NH Naval shipyard he deployed for months at a time so that for the first 5 years of our courtship and marriage we were apart more than we had been together. This was a very good way to get to know the really important parts of a person and their thoughts and solidified the priority we have of making the most of the time we do have together, to this day.

Patrick was the Christian lay leader on board our submarine, leading bible studies, prayer times and one on one outreach. During this time as we grew in our faith as a couple, God began working on  him, drawing him to a calling of full time ministry. He was ordained as a deacon in our local Baptist church and we both were very active in several capacities at church. With the birth of our firstborn, William Dawson, in 1993, Patrick fulfilled his first tour of duty and left the military to seek seminary training with the idea of possibly returning as a chaplain in the future.

During Patrick’s 2 years as plant engineer in Mississippi our twin daughters were born (Audrey Grace and Jordan Lee, 1995), he was ordained into the ministry followed by a move to Fort Worth, TX for full time MDiv studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where our next two children were born (Maggie Elisabeth 1998, Noah Patrick 1999, giving us 5 in 6 years). It was also during this time that we came to understand and embrace the doctrines of grace taught in the Bible. The next two years were spent pastoring a small church in AR and as that ministry came to a close, God used many closed doors and difficult circumstances to move us back to the Navy as a chaplain (2001) where He clearly has used Patrick as His hands and feet in ministry. Patrick has a passion for mentoring young men and young chaplains or ministers. Several he has mentored have gone on into ministry or are working toward that end. He does not prefer the administration of duties from a desk, but ‘boots on the ground’ ministry in the spaces where his marines or sailors are, providing studies and counseling, a ministry of presence by being there and being available, preaching at chapel as he has opportunity, etc.

Our first chaplain tour was Cherry Point Naval Air Station, NC where we had our first miscarriage, followed by our 6th born child, LaurelAnna Chandler (2004). The next tour in Virginia brought us our 7th child, Mary M’Cheyne (2006) at the ‘ripe old age’ for me, of 41! Her middle name is after Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the godly young Scottish minister of old. (All our children have a bible name and a family name, until Mary. We had used all the Grandma’s names on LaurelAnna, so we moved on to faithful ministers! William’s name describes Christ so that’s how we count his ‘bible name’. Each name has the meaning we have taught the children to live up to as well.)

With the birth of each of our 7 children we have intentionally desired and striven to stand on the shoulders of our parents and mentors taking the best from them and adding to it as God has grown us, and we teach our children that we hope they will do the same, standing on our shoulders and adding the wisdom and ways God grows them in as well, through the coming generations.

While at Providence Baptist church (now West Suffolk Baptist Church) in Virginia, Patrick was an elder and that year the church was admitted to ARBCA. Patrick had desired for some time to be endorsed by an association which was more aligned with and better reflected his doctrine of ministry, outreach, teaching and worship, so it was a tremendous blessing and perfect timing to become ARBCA’s first military chaplain.

The Joyner Family

The Joyner Family

2) How long has Patrick been a Chaplain? Does your family enjoy being a military family? Do you have any official functions and/or duties as a Chaplain’s wife?

Patrick served 6 years as a submarine officer, including several patrol deployments as well as deploying to the 1st Gulf War in Iraq. He has served 13 years as a chaplain for a total of 19 years to date, and has 2 deployed tours: to Africa with a destroyer squadron and Afghanistan with 2nd Marine Regiment. (Navy Chaplains serve the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines.)

I love my life. I love being anywhere with my husband and family. I have enjoyed moving every 2-3 years and always look forward to the next place and seeing a new part of the country, meeting new folks, worshiping in different churches. We have been married 25 years, moved 17 times in 10 states, attended 15 churches and chapels, collecting children, friends, and spiritual growth along the way.

Homeschooling has been icing on the cake as we can finish and start, break and resume at any time, around our moves and planning travels when others are in school. Our family is large enough to just take our friends with us, and then add some new friends in the new place. Our family literally does almost everything together so obviously we really enjoy each other’s company. Our children perform music together, play sports together, are church musicians together, study together, share rooms together, cook and watch movies together, camp and backpack, even run and win races together.

I will admit that our moves were easier on the children when they were younger than it has been on our teenagers these last couple of moves. But they have never complained and always embrace what God has next for us, trusting Him and building contentment. (Phil 4, my favorite chapter) Our children are proud to be a part of the military community and are very patriotic, doing much volunteer work with Wounded Warriors and each regiment or battalion that we have been a part of. They say the main con to it all is moving from friends and teams when you are a teenager, and not having the ‘hometown’ feel of longevity in one place. We have always tried to make it a priority for them to spend time with grandparents and cousins to keep those ties strong and stabilizing, promoting the importance of heritage and family. Patrick looks forward to settling down in one place someday and will not miss the moving!

As a Chaplain’s wife my functions are typically unofficial, as any pastor’s wife duties might be. Currently I do have an official function as a 2nd Marine Regiment Command Team Advisor. This role involves giving input on family readiness issues and events in our regiment as a ‘seasoned spouse’ along with a young married spouse, the rest of the commanding officers including Chap. Joyner, the Sergeant Major and enlisted team leaders.

Typically, at a duty station I join in with the other chaplain wives for bible studies, socials or volunteer work in addition to my responsibilities at church. Sometimes I have been involved with the OSC, Officer Spouses Club. On this tour, I prayerfully made the decision to volunteer with the regiment spouses instead of the chaplain wives, while continuing to work in different areas at church including mentoring young mothers and ‘new to homeschooling’ moms. (only so many hours in a day)

Often it is hard for stay at home moms to have an outlet for ministry to non-believers or non ‘church friends’. I volunteer work alongside the family readiness officer and other volunteer spouses planning events for the regiment families, doing potluck meals for the single marines in the barracks, calling family members, wives or parents of marines to share information or check on them during deployment. Our children volunteer for most of these events as well. Some things they have done with me include giving out Christian books to the marines, decorating their rooms and providing goodie bags upon their return from deployment, greeting marines at homecoming who do not have family present. I also make sure that new parents or families with a sick parent get meals, and during deployment I led a devotional fellowship time addressing marriage, parenting or deployment related issues.

We have raised our family to be a team, and since we are Navy, we go by ‘The Joyner Crew’. Our motto is Hold Fast and our theme song is Be Thou My Vision. We enjoy the expeditionary lifestyle for the most part, seeing it biblically as an example to be ready for wherever the Lord sends you, learning to be content and live joyfully where we are, not holding ‘things’ too tightly.

I have endeavored to teach my children (and other young military wives) that as a family, we are an intimate part of my husband/their father’s ministry. This would be true if he had a secular job as well. Everything we do to come alongside him builds him up and like Proverbs 31, also builds his reputation ‘at the city gate’. Wherever Patrick works, they know his family and thereby know him better, because we are around volunteering, helping, cheering at unit physical training events and being a part in whatever way we can. Another huge way we do this is also by the ministry of hospitality which we all take part in liberally, regularly having folks in our home and including them in our nightly evening family worship.

Chaplain Patrick Joyner preaching at Camp Leatherneck.

Chaplain Patrick Joyner preaching at Camp Leatherneck.


 

In Part 2 we will talk about Patrick working with ARBCA and how this busy Mom handles life when Patrick is on gone on Tours. If you have any questions you would like to ask Rhonda please comment below and let me know!