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Covering the Ministry Bases

Covering the Ministry Bases

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FORT BRAGG, North Carolina — James Robert Damude has been immersed in various areas of ministry in the Assemblies of God, including on a church staff, pastoring at college campuses, and serving as a world missionary. But he may have found his niche with his current assignment as a U.S. Missions military chaplain.

“I love the Assemblies,” says the frequently smiling Damude, 41. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Damude, a Canadian native from Burlington, Ontario, served nine years on staff at Christian Celebration Center, an AG congregation of 900 in Midland, Michigan. He then spent a couple of years as an Assemblies of God world missionary to Southern Asia before returning to Michigan as a Chi Alpha campus pastor.

While serving as college and career pastor at Christian Celebration Center, Damude simultaneously directed a Chi Alpha chapter on the campus of Northwood University. Back in the U.S. in 2012, Damude pioneered a Chi Alpha group at Saginaw Valley State University.

A couple of uncles, Joe Murphy who served in the Vietnam War, and Paul Condon, who participated in Operation Desert Shield/Storm, encouraged Damude to become a military chaplain. Despite being in his late 30s, Damude joined the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 2016.

“I love it,” says Damude, who is currently assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division (2-82 Assault Helicopter Battalion and 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade) as battalion chaplain at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “This is great ministry.”

Last year, Damude deployed in the fight against global terrorism. He had the opportunity to baptize 75 military service members and Department of Defense employees.

That’s quite a switch for someone who had never attended church until age 18. But that first Sunday at Christian Celebration Center, Damude felt convicted by pastor Joel I. Stocker’s preaching. Damude surrendered his life to the Lord at the altar. Subsequently he felt a call to ministry.

Stocker supported him after Damude graduated from Northwood University with a business degree and led the Chi Alpha group. Stocker says Damude’s ministry blossomed as college and career pastor.

“People like to be around him,” says Stocker, who retired in 2017 after 31 years at Christian Celebration Center. “He was like a pied piper, to college students especially.”

Stocker, 68, says Damude had a fruitful time as campus pastor in terms of students making salvation decisions, being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and committing to full-time ministry.

The military chaplaincy is a unique calling, with special challenges, according to Damude. He reckons coming from a nonchurch background has helped him build bridges with soldiers whose lifestyles are marked by swearing, complaining, and drug use.

“At most I have three years with these people, as Christ did with the disciples,” Damude says. “I want to make the most of every opportunity to pray right then and there, because I know every moment I spend with these troops could be their last.”

Because of his years of Chi Alpha ministry, Damude has more experience dealing with young adults than a lot of military chaplains. And with a tinge of gray hair, some soldiers without a father in their life see him as a paternal figure.

“It’s an honor to serve the Lord, especially while serving the country,” Damude says. “I’ve found I haven’t had to water down my faith, and I actually have more freedom than on a university campus.”

Damude met Sara Vanderhoff in the Northwood Chi Alpha group and they wed in 2002. The couple now have four children, Easton, 13; Sydney, 11; Emily, 8; and Silas, 6.

Stocker believes Damude is thriving under Army requirements. With his calm and kind demeanor, Damude has an ability to set people at ease.

“I think he has found his sweet spot,” Stocker says. “A tremendous amount of favor has been bestowed upon his life in the military structure.”

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