Views From the Training Camps by Frederic E. Pamp
Swedish Missionaries Of America - 1919
The Cross of Christ In Camp Cody
Camp Cody, on the desert sands, only a few miles from the Mexican border, was the home for over a year of the " Sandstorm Division." Here in the desert sand they trained for service on the battle front of Freedom and Humanity. The ideal climate and the crystal pure water made up for the disagreeable sandstorms. Situated 4,300 feet above sea level, the heat is bearable during the day and the nights are delightfully cool even after a hot day. Still it was trying for the lads from Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, who in "God's country" as they called their northern homes, were wont to see green grass and great trees, while here there was only mesquite, cactus and yucca to relieve the desolateness of burning sand. Like the captain 'of the original Sandstorm Division, Moses, they had need of patience which is not an outstanding virtue of youth.
'Speaking of Moses, there was much to remind one of the camp of the Israelites at Sinai. There was the chain of mountains encircling the desert camp. There was one great peak, Mt. Cook, which supplied the picture with the mountain Sinai. There were fierce thunderstorms and terrific lightning. The booming of the artillery out on the range, the crashing explosions of the hand grenades in the trenches nearby and the rattling of rifle fire supplied the accompaniments of the giving of the law. And was not this a new giving of the law? Was not this division a part of the great army called to apply the code of God given centuries ago? Was not this army to be the executor of God's wrathful judgments on nations that have trampled the law of God and the precepts of 'humanity?
Into this camp of the law the Gospel has made its way and the Cross of Christ has been raised in the midst "even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the, wilderness." The Y. M. C. A. has reared its tabernacles adorned with the sign of the red triangle, the symbol of service in the Master's name for body, mind and spirit. The Chaplains of the Army, their tents marked by the blue flag with a white cross, the cross too on their uniform, were representatives of Christ. The Army Pastors with their headquarters as a rule outside the camp visited from tent to tent and company to company on their errands of love to the souls of the men of their flock.
As one of these Camp Pastors, sent by my denomination, the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant of America, I was fortunate to be invited to do my work while serving as a religious secretary of the Y. M. C. A. In return for this I was to give all available time apart from the Camp Pastor's duty by the Y. Surely this was the leading of the Lord and gave me an unexcelled opportunity of giving a service of love in the name of Christ to a wider circle of men than I had dreamed of reaching. It gave me the privilege of living in the camp, of eating at mess with the soldiers, of finding them at every opportunity for Christian work.
The personal work is the great feature of the Camp Pastor's and Y man's mission. By tactful methods he seeks to win the boy's confidence. At the proper moment he speaks of the things of the will and eternity. In the tent, if there be given a moment alone with the man, or out under the stars, or in the Y man's room in the building, there comes the moment when soul touches soul and when the decision is pressed on the lad who is going into No-Mans-land before long. And many a man finds the Way, the Truth and the Life, guided by the evangelist of the camp, some pastor or Y man, fired by the love of Christ. There too, the Christian man in khaki is encouraged, strengthened and heartened to live on for Christ among his comrades, to witness as a good soldier and endure hardness if necessary in faithful obedience, following his Lord.
Many are the tales that could be told of this feature of the work. One will suffice. A thoughtful member of my church provided me with a bountiful supply of fine chocolates. These were often my bait for the boy. I would give him an invitation to my room to share these goodies. The lonely lad accepted gratefully. Whatever of strangeness there might be would melt away. Some words of home, of loved ones, of the home church led up to the great subject of the soul and decision for Christ. The Iowa boy, from a "Missionary" home, touched by the Spirit of God, knelt down and gave his heart to Christ and signed his name as a record of his momentous decision in the little New Testament. With eyes beaming with the new found light he arises from his knees and exclaims, with words that echo the story of the first disciples in John's Gospel: "I must find my brother!"
The preaching was many times a trying ordeal, owing to the character of the audiences. There was not the atmosphere always of the home church. It would not have been possible, nor wise if possible, to gather the boys from our denomination to separate services. They were notified where I was to preach and would come into the audience that gathered. The gospel of Christ was the great theme of Y man and pastor alike, The emphasis was put on evangelism, the winning of the men to a definite decision for Christ. There in the audience the college man sat next to the, illiterate, the Catholic, Jew and Protestant, mingled, all the denominations, represented, and the men '"Who never went to church when at home, the nations of the world, nearly, would have some representative all in khaki. The preacher would be put on his mettle to catch and to hold, the interest of that mixed throng. If he would be so interesting and so full of power that the man who sat writing a letter would leave his correspondence, and the game of checkers or chess would close, then the speaker felt he had succeeded. The Camp General Secretary, Dr. McBride, a man of fine accomplishments and a great preacher, often said: " Six months preaching to the soldiers in an army camp ought to be the obligatory finishing touch to a seminary course. Any man that can preach there and succeed can succeed anywhere. "
Let me relate an experience. It was at the Remount station, I was to preach one Sunday evening. the fearless men who will ride anything with four legs. I took a singer with me, a lad from Iowa. I went, I confess with a good deal of fear and trembling, for these men were not known as Sunday School folks. Outside the Y hut a base ball game was in progress accompanied with a great deal of yelling and profanity. Inside there was nearly as much noise, for one man was punching the bag up near the platform, others were discussing something quite loudly, some were wrestling and pushing each other around. But the songs soon brought the men in and brought order out of chaos. In they came, from the baseball game and from, the tents. The piano was wretched. Evidently none of these boys knew how to play, but all had had a try at pounding out some tune. But the music had charms. A more respectful hearing no one. could have wished for than what I had that evening. I read the text about Zacchaeus and told the story of the man who had much to hinder him from seeing Jesus but who determined and succeeded. The presence of the Christ was manifest and no doubt the Lord stopped and called many a man from sin that evening. The "hard-boiled" exterior was a thin veneer and the way to the soldiers heart was not so long.
My term of service is now over. As I look back over these three months, the men and the events pass in review in my memory. How one learns to love the boys in khaki! Yes, even the rough ones with the profane talk and the cigarette. The heart was easily reached "with a little bit of love." And our splendid Christian soldiers! How noble they are! Now the Sandstorm Division has been long on the battle line. The whirlwinds of sand have given. way to the hail of bullets, the storm of shells, the deadly gas fumes. Many a man whom I met in the desert camp lies in a grave in France. When I think of the boys I breathe a prayer for them. May that boy, who seemed so near to the Kingdom, but hesitated to step over the line, take that step as he goes into battle. And that boy who seemed to be so hard, may the Lord with the nail-pierced hands meet him before death overtakes him. The White Christ is out there, in the trench and in No-Mans-land. His fiery chariots will bear countless souls from the battle fields to the mansions of the Father in heaven. If it pleases God to bring the boy back, he will take his place in the ranks of the Church militant at home. My conviction is that the men who went as Christians will come back stronger for their experience and that many a man who went away without God will come back a Christian. And so the Camp Pastor's work will have a harvest. Thank God for the opportunity that I had. I have the feeling that many soldiers thank God that the Swedish Mission Covenant sent the men to minister to the soldiers. - Frederic E. Pamp