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Freedom Fighter: The Passion and Pitfalls of a Military Chaplain

Mark Lee was born in Korea and raised in Hawaii. After his undergrad and MBA studies at USC, and with six years’ experience in banking and finance, he entered Princeton Seminary to pursue MDiv studies. Lee was ordained as a PCUSA Minister of Word and Sacrament in May 2000. After a little over five years as a parish pastor, he joined the U.S. Army as an active duty (full-time) chaplain in 2005. Prior to active duty Army, Lee was an Air National Guard chaplain (part-time) for four years while he was a parish pastor. He’s married to Kyo Young Park, and they have two beautiful girls, Nicole, 9, and Lauren, 4.

How would you describe your calling to serve as a military chaplain?

During the years in the parish, I felt sort of out of place. I enjoyed the military chaplaincy tremendously and felt energized, while the parish setting did not feel as though it was where I belonged. After September 11, 2001, I knew that I had to serve in the military more. After a few years of discernment, and lots of prayer and discussions with my wife, I realized that my true calling in life was to be an Army chaplain.

The calling was and still is to serve the men and women of the U.S. Army, without regard to religious background, socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, gender, or any other ways in which society easily segregates people. Being a military chaplain doesn’t mean that I am in favor of war, but I am in favor of caring for those who serve our country. I also believe that the U.S. military helps us enjoy the very freedoms we hold dear, especially religious freedom, especially important for those of who are Christians and see the persecution of Christians that occur around the world even today. The call I sense is to love all men and women who put on the uniform daily, and their families. In loving these men and women, I feel that I’m sharing Jesus’ love and being obedient to his call for us to love others. By doing so, I hope to impact lives and help a few souls to encounter Jesus along the way.

What are some of the major differences you’ve experienced between chaplaincy and a pastorate in a local American church?

The primary difference is the plural environment of the chaplaincy. The chaplain is called to minister to all people. The first tenet of the military chaplaincy is to protect the freedom of religion, which means that we have to “perform or provide” for all. This legal requirement means that we have to help Wiccans and Pagans, and all uniformed service members, regardless of their religious backgrounds, to observe and practice their faith traditions. It doesn’t mean that I have to perform a Wiccan ritual, but it does mean that I must help the Wiccan military member find ways to facilitate his/her religious practices.

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Daniel has been an editor with ChurchLeaders for several years. Daniel and his wife, along with an incredible team, helped plant Anchor City Church in San Diego—a third culture, multi-generational church who seeks to join the redemptive mission of God for our city and for the world. Daniel also serves on the advisory board of Justice Ventures International, a non-profit organization working to fight human trafficking and modern-day slavery around the world.