Scott Witherick, 24 spent four years serving in the Army, including a tour of Iraq. As a Christian, he continually encountered the moral dilema of war and here speaks honestly about his time as a soldier.
When did you decide to join the army and did your Christian beliefs influence your decision?
As long as I can remember I always wanted to join the army. My Dad served for 24 years and I grew up surrounded by an army lifestyle.
When I became a Christian at 13 I did think for a while, 'can I be a Christian and a soldier at the same time?' It wasn’t an easy decision to make, the majority of my Christian friends were either running off on Christian themed gap years or starting at uni but I still had this passion for the army. I was faced with a moral dilemma.
How could I join the army and be a Christian when at some point I may have to fire a weapon at someone? This was a scary thought but once I really started looking into what the army is and all the jobs that were available, it showed me that there is a whole lot more to the army than guns.
As a Christian how could I not do something that I felt God had called me to do? I remember at the time my church youth worker and close friend said, 'we can do anything we like as long as we do it for the glory of God'. Those words stuck with me for a long time and it was with this thought and this prayer on my heart that I joined the army and in those four years experienced God in some truly amazing ways!
Was serving in the army a positive or negative experience for you?
There were many things I loved about the army but at the same time there were a lot of negatives too. The army taught me many things about myself, I joined the army quite young and naive but looking back now the army taught me a whole lot more than I thought it ever could.
I learned what a real day’s hard work is, how despite when you think you’re tired and you can’t do anymore physically or mentally, there is always a bit more to give.
As a Christian I learned that despite how desperate and alone you are, God is always there in every single situation. There were times however where it was hard especially as a Chirstian. Countless times I was threatened, mocked and I remember one time I even got thrown up against a wall and choked by my boss for my faith!
Despite being the only Christian in a squadron of 300 men; all of which love a drink and most even a good fight, I had some amazing conversations and great experiences of God helping them and me.
I remember one time while in Iraq I was able to help lead a small Alpha group. I also managed to join an all Fijian choir. Despite thinking to myself a lot of the time, 'Scott what the heck have you done?', God was always there. I think every Christian should challenge their faith and really go out on your own and just depend on God. That is what I did for four years and my faith now has never been stronger.
Do you believe there is a time for war or should we always persue peace?
I think it was always above my pay packet to really question why we were and still are at war now. From my experience of war, I feel nothing but pride for helping a country that couldn’t help itself. In Iraq we helped train their army, we built schools and built bridges to connect towns to help them help themselves once again.
The people of Iraq appreciated us there and I feel we made a difference. I think despite what we might hope for, there are always going to be wars but all we can do as individuals is help the people that need it without an opinion or an agenda of our own.
Do you ever wish people would stop debating whether Afghanistan and Iraq were morally good and get on with supporting the troops?
This is something I do feel passionately about. The stigma that soldiers are nothing but thugs and trigger happy idiots who aren’t smart enough to make it in civilian society annoys me. Our troops, despite the lack of respect that they receive from the public, put their lives on the line every day with pride and a passion to help those in need.
When life and death is so frequent, God is always a subject talked about in the army. I always found that was amazing. I sometimes feel that soldiers are forgotten about. This shouldn’t be the case, especially in the church.
A lot of soldiers have no idea who Jesus is and there is so much that could be done to change this. I’m not saying give up your political beliefs or opinions but our troops do what they do because they believe its for good, and i think as Christians we should show a lot more compassion towards them.
Has your opinion of war changed since serving?
From my experience of war and since leaving the army I am now more proud of what I was able to do and the good that was achieved.
My view on war remains that firstly I think of my friends and relatives who may have to go fight in it and secondly that God will protect them and help them help others.
What would you like to say to those who say Christians shouldn't serve in the army?
I remember getting a letter when I was in Iraq from an old lady at my church condemning my actions and saying that I would never be in favour with God if I was a soldier.
Firstly, to receive hate mail is never great, but to get it while on a tour of duty really pissed me off. Everything I did in the army I tried to do for the glory of God. From a simple run to a downtown foot patrol in the middle of Iraq, I always committed everything to God in action and in prayer.
To the people who say 'Christians shouldn’t serve in the army; I’ll ask, 'who else is going to save them?'
I cannot stress enough that it is these people who need God more than ever. God used me during my service in so many different ways and I'd encourage any Christian who wanted to join the army to do it and do it with a heart to please God.
June 22nd, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes