One of my favorite activities is weekly Sunday religious services. Not only does it help me keep my life in order and reduce stress, it reminds me why I'm serving in Iraq.
Just before we left the United States, where we trained for a couple of months before coming to 'The Sandbox,' church attendance skyrocketed. Many of us had been on active duty before, but very few of us had been in a combat zone. When you're confronted with your possible mortality--not to mention simply being in a new and uncomfortable situation--God is a good (and common) Someone to turn to. When we first arrived in Iraq, church attendance was rather high, as well. I've noticed, personally and generally, however, that when things aren't stressful or uncomfortable we forget that we need God in our lives. Now that we're closer to the end of our time in Iraq than the beginning, I've noticed that church attendance is dwindling.
My field artillery battalion is made up predominantly of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so there have always been enough of us in the battalion to hold our own denominational church services. The down side of this is that I haven't taken the opportunity to attend a worship service of a different denomination since I've been here. And, come to admit it, the last time I did that was when I was serving a mission for the Church 22 years ago.
One of the things that was a high predicter of low attendance in one area that I was in was the rainy season. There were no paved roads on the base that I served at first, and walking through the mud was treacherous. Now, where I'm at, we're able to just walk down the hall to the other end of our building, and the rainy season is pretty much over anyway, so no more excuses.
Where I was before, we had a much larger group of soldiers who might attend. Where I'm at now, we have a smaller group of Latter-Day Saint soldiers, but we're able to hold our own services just the same. In the traditional sacrament meeting format where on most Sundays speakers are chosen in advance from the congregation and where on Fast Sunday (usually the first Sunday of the month, where members fast for a 24-hour period and donate offerings for the care of the poor) we have testimony meeting. In our small-group format, after we partake of the bread and water of the sacrament, one of our number conducts a lesson/discussion from a manual containing the teachings of one of our prophets. (This year we are studying the teachings of the 3rd prophet of our church, Wilford Woodruff.)
When the going gets tough, people go to church. When it's easy, comfortable, or predictable, they find other things to do.
I've missed Sunday church services twice in Iraq. One was due to a surprise visit to our base by Charlie Daniels. The other was as a result of an extremely long and rewarding conversation with a man named Abraham from Jordan. I'm a strong advocate of church attendance, but in both of these cases I think I made the right choice given the alternatives.
My Islamic friends are in no way offended by my Christianity, and I celebrate as well their right to worship as they see fit. In some instances we have understood each other better and become much closer friends by sharing the precepts of our religions with each other. Additionally, I hope that I have showed them my respect for Islam and other religions here by being here to stabilize and defend their liberty.