GULF OF ADEN (Christian Examiner) – The men and women in the U.S. military fight, stand guard, train and maintain readiness in defense of the United States and its interests around the world in order to guarantee the freedoms protected by the Constitution. But as they execute their duties and responsibilities, they also take time to enjoy their own freedoms, including religious liberty.
Wherever they may be deployed, at home or abroad, believers gather together for prayer and worship as operations allow, and even celebrate the obedience of new believers who choose to follow up their confession of faith with baptism.
In the U.S. Navy, the tradition dates back several hundred years having carried over from the British Royal Navy, but it is an active practice among today's naval personnel.
Late last year, 27 members of the approximately 3,000 sailors and Marines deployed aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD 8), an amphibious assault ship deployed to the Gulf of Aden, were baptized in the ship's well deck, an area that can be opened to the sea and intentionally flooded in order to launch landing craft.
Commander Timothy Moore, a Navy chaplain endorsed by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church who has ties to Southwestern Christian University, Asbury Theological Seminary and Liberty University, conducted the baptisms while the ship was operating in the Red Sea.
"According to Scripture, this was where Moses parted the waters and led the Israelites away from Pharaoh's rule," Moore, the command chaplain, said. "These kinds of opportunities are very rare."
Although Moore is a member of a charismatic faith tradition, he is trained to accommodate the spiritual needs of all service members and he said that was reflected in the diversity of beliefs among those who were baptized.
"We had [a number of] Christian denominations represented, all accepting holy baptism," he said.
Denominational affiliations seemed lost on the participants, but the significance of the biblical ordinance as well as the uniqueness of the location appeared to be especially evident to them.
Aerographer's Mate 2nd Class Alexa May, from Clearlake, California said "there aren't many words" to express what it meant to be baptized in the Red Sea -- for her and those gathered to witness the event, even those who might not believe.
"Many of the service members will move on from this command and forget my name, maybe even the ports we stopped at," she said. "But, I truly believe that this unique event is something they will take with them for the rest of their lives."
There was a crowd, and a choir sang traditional hymns as each person walked down the submerged ramp into the water.
Although he is the senior chaplain for the ship, Moore was joined by other chaplains and lay leaders to perform the baptisms.
One of the lay leaders was Chief Aviation Ordnanceman James A. Henry from Fayette, Alabama. He said the normally competitive sailors and Marines came together from a number of Christian traditions to make the baptismal service a special time of worship and celebration.
"It was a real team effort," he said, reflecting military and spiritual cooperation.
The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit remain deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
-- Based on the article, "Makin Island conducts baptism while deployed" by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robin W. Peak, who is assigned to the Public Affairs Division on the USS Makin Island (LHD 8).