In light of ANZAC Day TGCA interviewed former military member Jeremy Elias who now ministers to Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel, and whose spouse serves in the military.
TGCA: You’ve been in the military, and your wife is in the military. What joys and challenges come with being in the ADF?
Jeremy Elias: My wife Carney and I met in the military, and I came to know Jesus through the FOCUS Military Ministry at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) 20 years ago. And so the military is very special to us. Being in the military is a great joy as the community and work are so special. We are proud to be a military family and it is satisfying that it is a well respected and honoured profession. The sense of purpose, values and camaraderie are strong.
There are some difficult parts of being in the military: we have spent long periods apart on operations and exercises. We have also been posted around Australia. Having to say goodbye to friends and find new ones in each location is relationally difficult. It can be quite unsettling never being sure where you will be living in the future and being unable to plan.
Having to say goodbye to friends and find new ones in each location is relationally difficult
TGCA: What are the joys and challenges of having a family member in the military?
JE: I left the Airforce about 15 years ago and have worked in several jobs including as a business consultant, manager at World Vision and now as a FOCUS Military Ministry worker at ADFA. Carney continues to serve as a logistics officer in the Army. Right now, our biggest challenge is that she is coming to the end of a 7-month deployment to the Middle East.
During this time she has been separated from our family and I have had to look after the kids (12, 10, 7) as a sole parent. This has been lonely and tiring for both Carney and I. But God has used this time to grow our faith in Him, and to grow us through these circumstances. We are proud of Carney’s service and it is wonderful for our children to grow up with a mum in the military. I would like to think that they have seen us both trust more deeply in Jesus through this time.
My wife Carney is coming to the end of a 7-month deployment to the Middle East. But God has used this time to grow our faith in Him.
TGCA: You’re also a Christian: what’s it like being a Christian in the military?
JE: Being a Christian in the military is not massively different from being a Christian in ‘normal’ day-to-day life. Christ gives us peace and freedom knowing that we have all we need in him, and there are also similar struggles to avoid self-interested living. The military continues to have a strong regard for faith, and Chaplains are well respected. The military culture understands concepts like authority, sacrifice and trust. Many of the ceremonies and traditions of the military continue to point us to God.
But in terms of challenges, because of the high aspirations and strength of the military culture, people can put their hope and trust in the military. Also, being fit, hard workers, people in the military feel they can be good and worthy people by gritting their teeth and working at it. This can be a problem when inevitably things don’t go the way people hope. Overall, the military is great, but we have learned through recent events that it is far from perfect. The military has a performance-based culture where grace and forgiveness often don’t sit well when people fall short. This can lead to people being unable to cope with difficult things they have done in service.
The military has a performance-based culture where grace and forgiveness often don’t sit well when people fall short.
The military culture can also present some real challenges to Christians wanting to live counter-culturally. It can be hard being only one, or only one of a few, in a unit who chooses to live for Jesus. We need strength to resist the less helpful, worldly aspects of military life.
TGCA: You minister to military personnel. What does that involve?
JE: FOCUS Military Ministry seeks to offer every member of the Australian Defence Force the opportunity to know Jesus. We do this by doing ministry on training bases where recent entrants are likely to be thinking through who they are and how they fit into the world. We have established ministries at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, Army Logistics Training Centre in Albury and HMAS Cerberus near Melbourne.
We are looking to expand to other training bases in the ADF. Our ministry involves building community and running main meetings, small group discussions and mentoring trainees. We engage all trainees, proclaim the gospel and equip them for Christ-centred lives in the ADF. We pray that we can help them think through and thrive as Christians proclaiming the gospel themselves and being faithful through challenges such as postings, deployments, leadership, ethical challenges and moral injury.
TGCA: What are some of the exciting things you see God doing in and through your ministry? And what are some of the difficulties you’ve seen?
JE: We regularly see people saved by the grace of Jesus as trainees consider Christ. The current generation of young adults are more curious about Jesus and faith in general. It is also wonderful seeing Christians regularly discussing Jesus with their non-Christian friends and bringing them along to church and events we run. Training establishments are a great place to share Jesus as people live with each other and share challenging experiences. It is also great to see young men and women making tough changes to their lives to better follow Jesus. We often see them bucking the trend and abstaining from heavy drinking and the sexualised culture.
On the flip side, it is tough when we see people consumed by the military way of life and walk away from Jesus. The military culture is incredibly powerful and for some, they see it as their hope. They become consumed with study, fitness and socialising. Living side-by-side with fellow trainees also means Christians are confronted with temptation and a very different way of life. Without staying focussed on the love and promises of Christ, people who are struggling in their faith can feel like they are missing out on what the world supposedly offers.
It is great to see young men and women making tough changes to their lives to better follow Jesus.
TGCA: How can we pray for Christians in the military?
JE: It would be wonderful for people to be praying for Christians in the Military to be walking closely with Jesus and remembering all that he has done for them. Please also pray that they would be sharing Jesus with those around them. The only way for every member of the ADF to have an opportunity to know Jesus is if Christians are sharing about him. Pray also that Christians in the ADF let Jesus guide their morals and worldview so they can be Christ-centred in their decisions.
Pray also for all members of the ADF and their families. We expect a lot of our ADF personnel: it is a tough job and it is very tough indeed when there is loss or they fall short. Pray for strength, wisdom and love as they serve.
Jeremy Elias joined the Royal Australian Airforce in 1996 as an Aeronautical Engineer. He served in the Iraq War in 2004. He is married to LTCOL Carney Elias and they have three school-aged children. Jeremy left the Airforce in 2006 and is currently a FOCUS Military Ministry staff worker at ADFA. The Elias family are members of Crossroads Christian Church in Canberra. To find out more about FOCUS Military Ministry you can email Jeremy at [email protected] or check out their website at www.focusmilitary.org.au.