Daniel Smith (ThM, 1978) has been senior pastor of Vermontville Bible Church in Vermontville, Michigan, for the past twenty-two year and a chaplain in the National Guard for the last eighteen. In December 2004 he was activated to full-time duty with a Georgia Brigade. After six months of training Daniel was stationed ten miles south of Baghdad, in the middle of the Sunni Triangle. Even there—in one of the world’s most dangerous zones—Christ’s love shines through as Daniel ministers to about one thousand military personnel. Here are some excerpts of his letters from the front.
Right now I am in one of my battalion’s smaller FOBs at Lutafiyah. I did a worship service in the chow hall, where we had about twenty. I talked about David’s grace to Mephibosheth and compared it to God’s grace to us. I gave the gospel as clearly as I knew how and had several conversations afterward.
Today I was up in one of the towers that overlooks Route Jackson, a main north-south road. Suddenly I saw a large fireball to the north, and then the boom ten seconds later. There is a major Shiite pilgrimage past our FOB to a town south. The fireball was a vehicle-born bomb that vaporized the suicide bomber, two Iraqi soldiers he had targeted, and a sixteen-year-old boy who was bringing them water. Windows were shattered in buildings all around and many others injured. We sent a couple of our tanks there to quell the small-arms fire. There was a second vehicle bomb a few moments later. The first blast shook our building and we are a half-mile away.
Tomorrow is the dream of a lifetime. My old battalion commander has invited me to go with him to ancient Babylon, about forty-five minutes from here. I have pictures already. Lots of ruins. Saddam built on top of some of them. But I am so excited to be where [the Book of] Daniel took place, and the Babylonian captivity talked about in so much of the Old Testament. We will be moving south soon to a much safer place. I talked to an active duty member of the 101st Airborne and he mentioned again that we are in the most dangerous place in Iraq—the Sunni Triangle of death.
One benefit of being shot at is that there are lots of opportunities to talk about eternity and to give the gospel one-on-one. Many of us here have led several to Christ. Some get hardened, but many become open and begin to think about eternity.
Hello from Iraq. December 3 marked my one-year anniversary of being on active duty. That is when I reported in to Ft. Stewart, Georgia, for mobilization training. We went to the National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, California, for the month of April. Living conditions were much worse than being in Iraq. We were put under high-pressure situations by our evaluators 24 /7; we slept in 300-man tents with lights on all night, many of whom worked different shifts; and we had simulated mortar grenades thrown in our tents nightly from midnight to three. I am glad I am in Iraq instead of there.
We arrived in Kuwait in mid-May, and deployed to Iraq the first of June. From June until mid-November my battalion operated three forward-operating bases (FOBs) in the heart of the Sunni triangle. We lost six of our soldiers there plus scores more seriously wounded enough to return to the States. It was a rich time of ministry, as many came to know Christ. Combat tends to make people much more open to the gospel. I had the opportunity to baptize two in the Euphrates River, just down from one of our outposts.
In November we moved south to Scania, Iraq, and now operate one of the truck stops along the main supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad. We provide FOB security by manning towers and doing patrols. We provide overnight housing for convoys and operate quite a number of radio relay points along route Tampa to relay radio messages along the chain, and to provide a quick reaction force to enemy activity all along the road. It is much safer here in the south, with little enemy activity. Thanks for the many letters and care packages. It means far more than you will ever know to have all the prayers, love, and support from back home. I look forward to seeing all of you in June.
I arrived in the States on 9 May for a week and a half of “out-processing.” Phyllis was there to greet me, and it was awesome to see her after six months of separation. We were able to fly together back to Michigan, where we were greeted by about seventy-five well wishers from my family, my church family, and my many other friends. The homecoming was a little overwhelming. When we got back to Vermontville, the village had a ride through town planned in the local fire truck. Since that time, I have spent a lot of time with my family.
There is no way to express my gratitude for the support that so many of you were to Phyllis and the boys, and to me during the deployment. It was obvious of your fervent prayer as many came to know Christ in the desert of Iraq, several were baptized, and many believers made lifelong decisions to follow Christ completely. I saw God’s hand of protection several times, especially the first six months when we served north in the Sunni Triangle. I was overwhelmed with cards, letters, emails, and care packages, for which I am deeply grateful. And so many called and visited with Phyllis and the boys, and were such a help to them. The truth is that Phyllis is the true patriot, being the single mom, fixing the car, repairing the house, and keeping the family going. She had to cope with so much more than I did. She deserves a medal.
Many of you have kept your local churches informed of my ministry in Iraq, and I would like you to please thank each one who prayed so fervently for us. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. And what a great and awesome God we served. I start back as pastor at Vermontville Bible Church on June 20.
It has been a culture shock to be back in the States, and back in a safe environment. I would appreciate your continued prayers for all of us as we transition back into ministry.
Thanks for being there for us. Psalm 42:1–2.