John Bazal, third-year master of divinity student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., and chaplain candidate in the U.S. Army Reserves, has been selected by the Evangelical Free Church as Chaplain Candidate of the Year for 2013.
John, a 1999 graduate of Newton Senior High School, was selected out of about 45 other candidates, partly because of his leadership — both on campus as vice president of student life and within his unit — and partly on account of his work helping local civilian pastors and pastors-in-training understand the needs of military personnel in their churches and future ministries.
“[Members of the military] are in the churches, their families are there, and a lot of times pastors understandably don’t know how to minister to them,” John said. “I’d even say they’re afraid of it, because it’s so much different than the needs of normal parishioners.”
John joined the Army at the age of 19 and comes from a military family, many of whom were deeply affected by war. Their experiences are part of what motivated him to pursue the chaplaincy.
“A lot of my work is there in the motor pools, working with soldiers, out in the field, sleeping in the dirt … a large part of my job is just being approachable,” he said. “And there will be some soldiers who are antagonistic toward Christianity, and it’s part of my job to protect their rights as well, and try to find someone who can fulfill their religious needs even if I completely disagree with them.”
Military chaplains must have an active endorsement by their faith group, and EFCA chaplains must have the master of divinity as part of qualifying for that endorsement. John chose TEDS for his studies nearly by accident.
“I wanted to go to a place known for academic excellence … I was on the Army Chaplain Corps website and Trinity’s logo was on it,” he said.
Trinity offers a scholarship for MDiv-enrolled chaplain candidates worth about 30 percent of tuition, which caught his interest.
“They gave me the impression — and they’ve been really good at following through and that they were committed to the chaplaincy and they were a chaplain-friendly school.”
Chaplains serve in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, police departments, and even some large organizations, as well as all branches of the military.
“A lot of pastors have two hours a week, maybe, to interact with their parishioners. But the Army chaplaincy, you’re talking 50 hours a week. The only day you don’t see them usually is Sunday,” he said, laughing. “Those are your people, a lot of times whether they like it or not. So I guess a piece of advice would be to be tenacious. The path is long … but everything I’ve experienced so far makes it totally worth it.”