Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2008

Luther Graduate Spreads the Gospel Through Chaplaincy

by By Andy Behrendt, M.Div. middler

Dan Shaw, '02, (right) with his former commanding officer, Col. Chris J. Roach.

"Abraham walked through this land, and legend has it that he passed through the little oasis that is on our own base," says Shaw, '02, a chaplain to U.S. Marines at Al Asad Air Base in Western Iraq.

Shaw finds other biblical echoes in his ministry to members of Marine Wing Support Squadron 473, a unit with the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing. Citing Exodus 17:4, he finds himself asking, "O Lord, what am I to do with these people?"

"Being chaplain of the unit is like being a pastor with your congregation 24 hours a day," says Shaw, 32. "This is an up-close and personal ministry. Many times it's too close, and the problems and sufferings of your congregation are flooding into your office."

The Washington native has been a pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Kent, Wash., since he was ordained in 2002. Whereas some seminarians prepare for military chaplaincy while at seminary, Shaw entered the U.S. Navy Reserve afterward, in 2004. He was activated in June 2007 to deploy to Iraq with his squadron of Marines, for whom the Navy handles chaplaincy. Still a pastor at Zion, he has been in Iraq since September and expects to be there until April.

With military history in his family-- from a great uncle killed at Iwo Jima to a Marine father--Shaw was first compelled toward such service when he witnessed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on TV in his room at seminary during his senior year.

"I figured if individuals my age and younger were serving their country to ensure the freedom of us all, I could help out," he says. "And what better way than with the gospel of Jesus Christ?"

Shaw brings that good news not only to Marines at Al Asad but also to others stationed near the Syrian border--he makes monthly visits by helicopter. He spent the Christmas season with about 400 Marines in Southwestern Iraq, where he brought local children candy and toys that he gathered from U.S. churches.

At his chapel at Al Asad on Sunday mornings, Shaw leads a Lutheran worship service, with communion, for various Protestant Marines. He also holds a Sunday-evening service for the men who refuel planes and usually cannot attend in the morning. At one chapel service, he gave the troops copies of Luther Seminary's 2007 Advent devotional. Shaw led Christmas services at bases around the region--at one, a group of more than 100 Marines left standing room only. He also teaches three Bible studies and has even started a New Testament Greek reading group.

The counseling load is heavy. "Deployments are tough on the families here," Shaw says. "Children are being born back in the states, relatives are sick, marriages are falling apart, and many of the Marines are unable to do anything about it. It's tough on them."

But he insists that the war in Iraq, which he considers a just battle against the evils of terrorism, has taken a turn for the better since he and his unit arrived.

Shaw says Luther Seminary prepared him for ministry by most importantly teaching him how to preach Christ crucified as savior and to baptize and speak the absolution of sins as gift--"in short, to let Christ run free, to hold him in his words," he says. "Truly Christ is magnificently present out here and is working his intrusive grace upon us all."