Helping Chaplains Reach the Field
Missouri Army National Guard Assemblies of God chaplain candidate Peter K. Pyo is scheduled to graduate from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in May, after which he expects to go on active duty.
Pyo is one of 196 U.S. Missions AG Chaplaincy Ministries candidates to be awarded a total of 610 scholarships to attend the Springfield seminary since 1983. To date, Chaplaincy Ministries has given $1,026,368 to help AGTS students who are in full-time preparation for the chaplaincy.
Most recipients believe the scholarship made the difference in reaching the mission field earlier and in better financial shape. Pyo is no exception.
“The scholarship allowed me to not have to work full time during my first three years of seminary,” says Pyo, 26. “I only had to work part time to support myself, which allowed me to focus on my studies instead of feeling overwhelmed.”
Pyo is worship pastor at the Park Crest campus of Life360 Church in Springfield. While in seminary and with the National Guard, Pyo has had the opportunity to counsel 300 soldiers, conduct marriage seminars, hold pre- and post-deployment debriefings, preach in chapel services, participate in earthquake preparedness exercises, and respond to the Ferguson riots.
In 1983, Lemuel D. McElyea became head of AG Chaplaincy Ministries and immediately cast a vision for the scholarships. During his 14 years at the department’s helm, McElyea stressed the importance of AG chaplains improving their education.
“I decided we needed to help those preparing for active duty chaplaincy,” says McElyea, 88.
Realizing not all chaplains could afford seminary courses, McElyea initially convinced several churches to donate funds to provide $1,000 scholarships for students.
Wanda R. Carter was one of the first students to receive a scholarship in 1983.
“The scholarship was a good incentive for me to follow through on my desire to be a chaplain,” Carter recalls. “It went a long ways to help me stay focused.”
Carter, 73, spent 15 years in pastoral ministry in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, before retiring as a hospital pastoral care director in 2010.
“It went full circle,” Carter says. “I did what God wanted me to do and He allowed me to do what I had planned to do myself.”
Eric J. Cochrane became a U.S. Navy Chaplain after graduating from AGTS in 2005. Both he and he wife Raylene, who served as a Navy Reserve chaplain, received scholarships.
“The scholarships helped us keep a roof over our head and pay our way through school,” says Cochrane, 47. “Otherwise it would have been a lot tighter and I would have owed a great deal more on student loans.”
Cochrane, who currently is assigned to a destroyer and based at the U.S. Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia, commends those who have donated to the scholarship fund over the years.
“The selflessness of the people willing to help others with their funds really comes out of an understanding the importance of what we do,” Cochrane says. “It goes a great distance in ensuring that the cost of school isn’t too exorbitant.”
Sheri J. Ray says the scholarships she received for AGTS schooling provided support as she took the first steps of obedience in response to God’s call to chaplaincy ministry. The funds enabled her to enroll as a full-time student while working as a hospital chaplain in a level-one trauma center.
“It was an intense ministry assignment, and I wanted to find out what I could handle academically because it had been a long time since I’d been in school,” remembers Ray, 51. “The scholarships were a tremendous blessing while fulfilling the educational requirements for the ordination and endorsement process in my journey to becoming a career chaplain.”
Ray says multiple AG Chaplaincy Ministries scholarships permitted her to continue in practical ministry, while simultaneously doing classroom work and theological study. She graduated in 2013 and now is in the project phase of her doctoral program. Vocationally, Ray is working as a corporate chaplain for an agricultural-based company in multiple sites. She says she feels like an old-time circuit rider, albeit with modern technology tools, responsible for providing pastoral care for 490 employees scattered throughout northern Tennessee and southern Kentucky. The unique chaplaincy assignment involves crisis intervention through email and video conferencing along with face-to-face pastoral encounters during on-site visits.
“The AG Chaplaincy Department has been amazing,” Ray says. “Beyond the scholarships, they have invested in me and my ministry. They believed in what God was doing in me and through me, and have been willing to invest their time, mentoring, and scholarships.”
As the Military/Veterans Affairs representative and endorser since 2005, AG Chaplain Scott McChrystal applauds those who have made these scholarships possible.
“Besides praying for our future chaplains, helping them financially to minimize their debt load is the smartest investment we can make toward insuring that we recruit and train outstanding men and women in all areas of chaplaincy ministry,” McChrystal says.