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Review

Unexpected Calling

Navy chaplain yields to God’s calling.

Sitting on the office desk of Jennifer M. Howe is a card that reads “Where God guides, He provides.” She says it reminds her that God sends exactly what she needs when she steps out in faith to His call.

For Howe, 39, that call was to be a Navy chaplain. It required a great step of faith, considering she had no military background and no interest in the chaplaincy.

Howe’s journey began after she finished high school and enrolled in Master’s Commission, a two-year discipleship program. During her time there, the U.S. invaded Iraq. When Howe saw newspaper pictures of the first casualties, she was moved to tears, but couldn’t understand why.

At age 20, while seeking God’s direction for her life, a number of people introduced Howe to the idea of the chaplaincy. Her grandmother showed her an advertisement in the Pentecostal Evangel about chaplaincy, but Howe laughed it off as “the dumbest thing I ever heard,” she recalls. She didn’t think the military fit her personality. And the thought of serving in uniform petrified her.

Her reaction changed when Howe saw those photos of soldiers that had been killed.

That’s when she says God spoke to tell her she would be ministering: These are your people. You don't know them yet. You don't understand their culture, but you will.

“As much as it was illogical, I could not get it out of my head,” Howe recalls. “I couldn't get it out of my heart.” Setting her sights on being a Navy chaplain, she enrolled in Southwestern Assemblies of God University and focused her studies on counseling.

Later, while attending Ashland Theological Seminary, Howe says God brought key people across her path to prepare her for the chaplaincy. That included James T. Denley, then an active-duty Navy chaplain and now the Chaplaincy Ministries military representative for AG U.S. Missions.

Denley, 61, encouraged Howe and helped her clarify her calling. He saw in her the qualities of compassion and tenacity needed in a good chaplain.

“She knows that she's a child of God,” Denley says. “She knows that she's a woman of God. If a person doesn't have those qualities, she doesn't succeed very well in the very hectic and demanding life of being a military chaplain.”

In 2013, a decade after sensing the call from God, Howe was commissioned as an AG military chaplain. Onshore and at sea, she has provided pastoral care for thousands of sailors, Marines, midshipmen, and civilians.

Since July 2020, Howe has been serving at the U.S. Naval Academy as the 6th Battalion chaplain, her fourth tour of duty. She loves the pastoral care aspect of her job. All in the same day, for example, she might provide counseling involving a sexual assault victim, a suicide ideation, or the death of a loved one.

“I like to think of my office as a safe place, and in the world around us, there are not many safe places,” Howe says. “For whomever I’m serving, they know they will be taken care of, that they will be heard, and they will not be judged for whatever comes out of their mouth.”

A special challenge for Howe is balancing work with home life. She and her husband, Philip, have two sons, Soren, 7, and Maverick, 6. She finds herself asking questions such as, Are my kids missing out on their mother? How does my being in the military or knowing I will deploy again impact the children?

Leaving such questions to God, Howe knows that her work in the chaplaincy is more critical than ever. Both she and Denley emphasize the need for women chaplains. The AG has only 15 women military chaplains. Three are around 232,000 women serving in the U.S. military.

Sherri Langton

Sherri Langton, associate editor of Bible Advocate magazine and Now What? e-zine, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Focus on the Family, Decision, Upper Room, Today’s Christian Woman, and other publications. Langstone, who lives in Denver, also has contributed to book compilations.