After 40 days and 40 nights in the Kuwaiti desert, the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment crossed the line of departure into harm’s way in Iraq on March 20, 2003 — the start of what would become known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“We had the first man killed in action in the whole war in our unit and fought what many believe is the most decisive battle in the fall of Baghdad,” said Carey Cash, a Navy chaplain assigned to the regiment.
Yet in the midst of physical war, a spiritual battle for the lives of these Marines was already underway as God brought revival to the unit. In the battalion of 1,000 men, Cash said, “about one out of four had a profound spiritual awakening.”
At the beginning of the deployment, Cash asked the men, “Who’s thinking about baptism and would like to explore what it means to follow Christ? Join me for a 12-week study.”
Six of the 12 weeks took place in the Kuwaiti desert. During those 40 days and nights, Cash conducted classes and counseled daily with Marines as they wrestled with the claims of Christ on their lives. Just before crossing into combat, 60 Marines were baptized as new Christians. Several others were baptized while in combat, including one inside Saddam Hussein’s palace on Palm Sunday.
In all, more than 250 men either made professions of faith or rededicated their lives to Christ. In addition to those baptized during the deployment, many more were baptized in their churches upon returning to the U.S.
The experience served as one of many points along the way where Cash felt an affirmation of God’s calling on His life. His 2003 book “A Table in the Presence” chronicles the story of these spiritual victories.
Call to ministry
However, a medical crisis nearly prevented him from serving in the military.
Cash grew up in a military family, his father a career Naval officer and fighter pilot who served as a commanding officer at the prestigious “Top Gun” flight school. Military blood always coursed through Cash’s veins, but football was his passion early on.
Cash received a football scholarship as an offensive lineman to The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, but during his final season, doctors found an inoperable tumor at the base of his brain stem.
“The rug was completely ripped out from under my wife and me,” Cash recalled. “I’d always identified myself physically, and the very thing where I’d always found my identity was gone. But it was during that season of incredible struggle that I began to hear God’s call to ministry.
“All this is happening at the same time. I’ve got this issue going on with my head, this deep sense of calling to ministry that I’m feeling certain about, and out of left field comes this love for the military that’s never really left me as well.”
Unsure how this all fit together, Cash sought the wise counsel of his father-in-law, who served as Chaplain of the Marine Corps. As soon as his father-in-law mentioned chaplaincy, Cash said, “It was like the light bulb went on.”
“It was absolutely crystal clear this is where God wanted me, but the only mitigating problem was that I had a tumor,” he said. “It’s hard to get a commission when you potentially have a catastrophic illness.”
As expected, the Navy denied Cash’s application for active duty chaplaincy due to the tumor. By this time, however, Cash had already enrolled in classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Despite having symptoms related to the tumor for more than a year and a half, Cash said, “The week I entered seminary, August of 1994, the symptoms stopped forever. I’ve never had another symptom.”
Cash loved seminary and credits Southwestern with giving him a love for the Bible and the ability to combine a biblical worldview with a missionary heart.
“Southwestern is the convergence of God’s truth and a desire to share that with others,” Cash said. “I like ethics, and I love evangelism, but if you don’t have the Bible at the bottom of that, infusing that, you’re a do-gooder but people aren’t coming to the Lord. Southwestern was such a special, sweet time in my life and my wife’s life of spiritual growth, our understanding of God’s Word and a love for evangelism.”
Still convinced of God’s call to chaplaincy, Cash sought a medical waiver from one of the top neurosurgeons in the country. Providentially, the doctor was a Christian, and after a year of monitoring the tumor with no significant growth or changes, he signed Cash’s medical waiver.
A few months later, Cash received an approval letter from the Navy.
“I still have the tumor,” Cash said. “I really do believe God allowed that just so He could say, ‘Let Me show you who I am and what I can do.'”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press