Muddy Boots Ministry
World War II re-enactor chaplain reaches modern audiences.When associate pastor John K. Uhler organized a military-themed men’s retreat in 2012 at Faith Community Assembly of God in Easton, Pennsylvania, he had no idea it would launch a ministry that keeps him on the road up to 30 weekends a year.
Uhler’s work as a “living history” U.S. Missions chaplain brings him in contact with thousands of people annually, including fellow World War II re-enactors. Among the largest events he attends is D-Day Ohio. Staged every August in northeastern Ohio, the event attracts 1,500 re-enactors and crowds of up to 50,000.
Uhler, 57, also speaks at federal and state parks, airports, museums, and military bases, relating the key role chaplains played in WWII. He serves as a representative of Christ to modern-day audiences.
“Chaplaincy gives me the opportunity to minister in the ‘highways and byways’ of life,” says Uhler, whose Muddy Boots Ministry has grown to the point that he resigned as Faith Community’s associate pastor in January. “I can minister to people where they are, in their natural environment, and encourage them to meet Christ.”
Uhler’s only military ties are his father’s post-WW II service in the U.S. Navy plus an uncle who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. But after leading Faith’s “On Target” retreat, he attended the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania, to research ministry opportunities. When one chaplain remarked it could provide an opportunity to minister to people who never attend church, it convinced Uhler to pursue re-enactment outreach.
Uhler obtained credentials from AG Chaplaincy Ministries in 2016 as a specialized chaplain. The following year, he adopted the Muddy Boots name. The U.S. Air Force invited him to set up a display at its national museum in Dayton, Ohio, in 2018.
Over the years, Uhler has acquired a range of equipment to add authenticity to his re-enactment displays. Among the pieces are four pump organs, including World War I, early World War II, and later Army and Navy-issued organs; original WW II Communion kits; hymn chests; a record player used by a chaplain’s assistant during the Korean War; and a WW II-era jeep.
The past seven years, Uhler has been instrumental in the decisions of several people to follow Jesus. He has encouraged others in their Christian walk or discipled them.
At most re-enactment weekends, he preaches twice: once for re-enactors and another time for the public. The second year of one event Uhler attends annually, only eight people showed up for a service. That prompted him to wonder if the ministry efforts were worth it.
Then a man portraying a German prisoner of war came to tell Uhler the message the chaplain delivered a year earlier had saved his marriage.
“The Lord told me to not grow weary in well-doing,” Uhler says. “I always remember the real reason I’m there: I’m a chaplain for those people.”
Matthew J. Danko, 57, who ministers at several re-enactments annually, thinks Uhler is effective in overseeing D-Day Ohio’s eight-member chaplain corps because of his authentic artifacts and passion.
“He’s representing history that’s slowly being forgotten,” says Danko, a member of The Assembly Jackson in Jackson, Michigan. “He brings it back to life. That’s a vital ministry.”
Among those Uhler ministers to are active duty and retired military soldiers and the wounds — physical or psychological — they carry. While acknowledging he isn’t a veteran, Uhler reminds crowds of the sacrifices soldiers and their families make, while including a recruiting pitch for the military chaplaincy.
“I may be too old to serve as an army chaplain, but I’m not too old to find someone else to go,” Uhler says.