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  • Revd Stuart Hull

Sojourners in a distant land

Rev Stuart Hull writes on what it means to be away, persevering in training and on the great gift of offering soldiers the hope we can only find in Jesus.

My helmet bounced against the bracket behind me as the armoured vehicle (known as a “bulldog”), in which I slept, ate and cooked, traversed the ice and snow of the dirt road. Three weeks ago I had woken up in a tent to see traces of ice lining its inner walls, and a fresh layer of snow blanketing the ground outside, so it felt good to be back in the bulldog with its much treasured heater and built in cooker (which vitally provided the hot water for our tea).

For six months over the last winter I served as chaplain to the First Fusiliers Battlegroup in Estonia. In the field I mostly deployed with the medics, alongside whom I trained and lived in the Baltic snowdrifts. We talked a lot about home, the loved ones we left behind, and how excited we would be to see them again. Many of us counted down the weeks until we would be with our families once more; some kept track of the days. In the space of those six months thoughts of home were never far away, and yet there was a job to be done. Our troops operated in freezing conditions. Tanks cut across snow strewn fields, and infantry sections advanced through dense forests. The battlegroup trained in these conditions to act as a deterrent, to assure the protection of a sovereign nation, and ultimately, to conduct warfighting if necessary.

The reality of this purpose permeated all of our training, and a hundred daily battles were fought in mindfulness of the need to remain ready. Whether it was the maintenance of vehicles, the supply of vital equipment, the upkeep of our communications, medical cover, or so much else, each team faced its own objectives. In my role as the Battlegroup chaplain it was my job to care for the Army’s people, providing spiritual, moral, and pastoral guidance for all personnel. This manifested itself in different ways, from leading a field service as we sung “Guide me O’ Thou Great Redeemer” over a midnight fire during the Cold Weather Operators Course, to holding several baptisms for those attending our fellowship group, to speaking to the troops about the values & standards upheld by the British Army.

One night our bulldogs took shelter in a large abandoned building, giving us shelter from the cold. We first set up the medical tent used for the care of those who might become injured on the exercise, made a brew and had a rest, and then we commenced the next training serial. I took a moment beside a noisy (but all importantly warm) generator to continue my reading in the book of Revelation.

John’s apocalyptic book contains a commentary on a great many things, but ultimately it reminds the Christian that in this world we are but sojourners in a distant land. We face daily battles, and we long to return home.

We live in the shadow of a great conflict: the reality of sin which darkens and distorts the goodness of creation. We rightly rejoice in the assurance that victory over this evil has been fully won for us by Jesus, in whom all our hopes are found, and yet even as the war is won, there remain some battles to be fought.

In the snow blizzards of Estonia, I had it easy. With the tread of snow underfoot and smell of diesel from the bulldog engines, far away from my family, I very much knew that I was not home. The discomfort of my surroundings and the need for ministry to be done enabled me to remain focused on the fight in front of me. However, in our contemporary world, with its maelstrom of comforts, anxieties, and distractions, it’s all too easy to forget that we are far from home, and that we have a job to do.

In our baptism we are commissioned to reject evil and to love our neighbour as ourselves. For a Christian, to love someone is to fight for them. Love is to recognise a fellow wanderer, like ourselves, beset by the temptations and persecutions of the world and in need of the hope of Christ to guide them home. It is our bounden duty and service to help them along that shared path, with the same assurance held by one Christian soldier who famously wrote “not all who wander are lost.”

Many soldiers hold dear that moment when they land back in the UK to see their children running back into their arms again. I certainly remember mine. What greater gift can I give someone than that they too return to their eternal home, only for their heavenly Father to run out to greet them.


Revd Stuart Hull is a Church of England minister who trained at Wycliffe Hall. He serves as an Army Chaplain.

Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust



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