For God and Country
Local pastor served in Afghanistan
By: Jim McLallen, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Sounds like a rock group or a bumper sticker, doesn’t it? For a local minister, however, that phrase has become part of her ministry and life.
Pastor Martha Kester of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Forest Avenue spent a year deployed in Afghanistan with the Iowa National Guard’s 334th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd of the 34th Brigade Combat Team Infantry Division. Her unit received initial training for several months at Camp Shelby in Mississippi beginning August 2010. The Brigade deployed to Bagram in Afghanistan in the fall of 2010, returning to Iowa in July 2011.
While attending Trinity School for Ministry in Pennsylvania, Kester became friends with a fellow seminarian, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant who explained the value of chaplains. Kester then learned from the recruiter that the age limit for enlistment had been increased to 40. Reflecting on these chance encounters, Kester said, “I don’t believe it was a coincidence. God had a plan for me.”
Captain Kester received her commission the day before graduating from Trinity. She began serving St. Luke’s in August 2006 as the assistant priest and was called as its rector right before her deployment in 2010. Upon serving the required two years of parish ministry she received her endorsement from the Episcopal Church and was commissioned as a chaplain in January 2009.
In Afghanistan, Captain Kester’s blessings on the soldiers prior to a convoy’s “leaving the wire” became an important ritual, and attendance was high. Soldiers looked to Captain Kester as someone who represented the presence of God even in a hostile environment. Among her duties, Captain Kester traveled to various regions in the country where some of her soldiers were stationed to provide a ministry of presence along with an ear for those soldiers needing some confidential conversation.
Pastor Kester continues as a part-time chaplain in addition to her full-time duties as rector. She attends Guard drills each month, provides follow-up support for her soldiers as they readjust to life in Iowa and cares for her congregation at St. Luke’s.
As she says “What I do with the Guard makes me a better parish priest, and what I do in the parish makes me a better chaplain.”
The congregation provided ongoing support while she was deployed; while they continue to share her with the National Guard, they are very happy to have her back in their embrace.
Originally published in http://www.iowalivingmagazines.com/