“You’re dressed like a wolf, but you’re really a sheep a sheep on the inside,” Brunson said. “We’re able to represent God and be a visible reminder of the presence of God in some dark places. We’re not combatants. The violence may be happening around us and to us, but as chaplains, we do not bear arms; we can’t carry weapons. You have to have people around you, usually an assistant, to protect you because we have no means to protect ourselves.”
Brunson credits his education at Nazarene Theological Seminary—particularly the close and supportive community, as well as the academic rigors—with equipping him for more than two decades as a Nazarene Air Force chaplain.
A calling to be ‘all things to all people’
At the age of 13, Brunson first heard God’s call to military chaplaincy through a sermon from 1 Corinthians 9, in which Paul says, “I have become all things to all people so that by any means I might save some.”
“From that passage and that particular sermon, I heard God speaking to my heart: ‘That’s exactly what a military chaplain does. He puts on the uniform, becomes one of them, crawls in the trenches, and becomes a warrior that he might minister to fellow warriors.’ So that was the actual passage that God used to call me into chaplaincy.”
The young Brunson had never even thought about a military career before that moment.
A Jonah journey
After Brunson graduated from high school, he initially set out on a different career path. He enrolled at Arizona State University where his choices drew him away from God’s call. By the end of his freshman year, he’d slid from honor student status to failing. He finally dropped out.
“I kind of hit bottom that year and realized my plans didn’t work out too well. That’s when I began to hear God reminding me of the call [to chaplaincy]: ‘Are you ready to say yes now?’”
Brunson decided he was ready. He enrolled at Southern Nazarene University (SNU), where he completed his bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree between 1990 and 1997.
Dr. Roger Hahn, who recently retired from NTS, was then on faculty at SNU. Brunson confided in Hahn about his call to ministry, and his fear that his low grades would disqualify him from military chaplaincy. Hahn guided Brunson in taking the right classes for his calling, and Brunson worked hard to prepare himself for ministry. Through God’s grace, he was able to achieve academic success.
Community and equipping at NTS
“We talked for two and a half hours, and at the end he said, ‘We’d like to bring you in as chaplain candidate.”
In the spring of 1997, Brunson enrolled at NTS.
The seminary prepared Brunson for military chaplaincy by providing him with a close, supportive community and a rigorous, practical education.
“There were several who taught who were former chaplains,” he said. “They built a community around those folks who would be future chaplains. We were there to support each other. We’d get back from our summer training and meet at their house for dinner, telling stories of what happened that summer and where we were on duty.”
Being Jesus to military families
Throughout his 20 years in chaplaincy, Brunson has drawn from his NTS studies, especially biblical studies, preaching and interfaith studies.
“I thank God I had the privilege of going to NTS and getting the education that I received,” Brunson said. “The interfaith class really helped me. The evangelistic preaching class made me a better preacher and a better minister. NTS gave me the tools I needed to minister in a Christian environment, but also to minister in an interfaith environment.”
Brunson’s career has involved significant marriage ministry, as many struggling couples have been saved by God’s grace, and their families redeemed. He has also counseled people with personal problems or those contemplating suicide.
One day, an airman came to his office to say, “I need somebody to tell me how to get right with God.”
The airman gave his life to Jesus. He began to attend chapel and every Sunday service. Seeing his transformation, his wife began coming with him. Their marriage, along with his performance at work, greatly improved.
“He was in a bad place, we weren’t sure he was going to stay in the military, and God really turned that around,” Brunson recalled. “His entire family was changed. He began dedicating his life to helping people around him, and other Airmen.”
A pastor in uniform
“There are Nazarenes serving in harm’s way today,” Brunson continued. “The Church of the Nazarene, like all other churches, has the opportunity to loan some of its pastors to the military. The military understands the Church of the Nazarene has offered your services as a minister and doesn’t expect you to be anything other than a Nazarene pastor in uniform.”
“I’ve been deployed to Afghanistan. I’ve been to some other places in the world, as well. It’s an incredible privilege to share the love of God; to be the Church, the Body of Christ in those areas; and to represent Christ to the people around us.”
“So, even in the midst of the suffering and the potential for death and violence and stuff like that, what better opportunity for us to bring the light of Christ into those very dark times? If we don’t do it, nobody will. That’s one of those ‘Here I am, send me’ things. It’s very much a unique calling and I can’t emphasize enough it is a privilege to serve as both a chaplain and a military officer.”
Learn more about studying at NTS at www.nts.edu/info.