After a full year away from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the desert sands of Iraq, Adam Harwood returned to a hero’s welcome Oct. 8.
Hundreds of seminary students, faculty, and staff members lined Seminary Place on the NOBTS-Leavell College campus to welcome Harwood home from a year-long deployment as a chaplain with the Louisiana National Guard. Members of Harwood’s church, First Baptist New Orleans, joined the flag-waving crowd to mark his return. The welcome began at the front of campus and after the Harwoods stopped to greet the well-wishers, the crowd followed the family to their home on Seminary Place in true New Orleans “second line” style.
“We entered the campus, and as we turned the corner at the Frost Building, the street was lined with NOBTS and Leavell College faculty, staff, students, and families, as well as friends from my church family, FBNO,” Harwood said. “The welcome home parade demonstrated the generosity, love, and support of the body of Christ.”
‘Keen mind and pastoral heart’
By day, Harwood is professor of theology at NOBTS and editor of the school’s Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry. He is known around campus for his keen mind and pastoral heart. On the weekends and in times of crisis, Captain Harwood ministers to the spiritual needs of the men and women serving in the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Last October, Harwood’s brigade left for three months of training in preparation for a nine-month tour of duty to Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad, Iraq, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Their mission was part of the multi-nation effort to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS).
As a chaplain, Harwood offered pastoral and religious support to U.S and Coalition soldiers and the many civilian contractors working on the base. He also “advised the command on moral, ethical, and religious matters impacting the mission.” According to Harwood, he ministered to people of many different faith backgrounds.
“Chaplains are different than pastors because we provide religious support to all people—including those from different faith traditions—without violating our own religious convictions or the constraints of our ecclesial endorser,” Harwood said. “In my case, that is the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
A listening ear and unique struggles
Harwood led weekly chapel services, Bible studies, and special worship events. One of the more memorable worship times for Harwood came on Christmas Eve.
“We were away from home during the holidays, so on Christmas Eve night, more than 100 soldiers gathered in a tent,” he said. “We sang Christmas carols by candlelight, then I read the nativity story from the Gospel of Luke and explained why Jesus came to earth.”
Easter was special too. Harwood said many attended worship on Easter Sunday. This allowed Harwood to present a “clear message of God’s forgiveness available through Christ’s life, death and resurrection.”
Harwood also provided confidential counseling to the soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines on the base.
“We were in a combat zone, which raised unique struggles,” Harwood said. “I provided a listening ear, counseling, and prayer for issues like relationship problems or questions about God.”
‘Empowered by the Spirit’
Harwood said he leaned on God’s Word and prayed for spiritual strength during the deployment. He not only needed spiritual strength for himself but also to minister to the soldiers under his care.
“I knew I could only be present mentally and emotionally for soldiers if I was walking in the Spirit and empowered by God’s Spirit,” he said. “I remained committed to daily time with the Lord in prayer and Scripture. I was particularly strengthened by reading the Psalms.”
Outside of the planned activities like chapel and Bible studies, Harwood provided a ministry of presence throughout his deployment.
“I spent time with the soldiers in their environment—training in the field, working out in the gym, and visiting them at their battle positions and work stations,” he said. “Chaplains do everything other soldiers do—except carry a weapon. By Army regulation, we’re non-combatants.”
Being away from family for an entire year was the hardest part. But Harwood trusted God’s provision for his family.
Support from home
“In many ways, a military deployment is harder on the family left behind than on the service member,” Harwood said. “I’m blessed with a strong wife, Laura, who is committed to the Lord and to our family. The seminary and church families surrounded Laura and the kids with love and support, including delivering meals and providing carpool assistance.”
Harwood was thankful for communication technology and a strong WIFI signal during his deployment. This allowed him to text and call his family.
“My family and I were carried along by the prayers and encouragement of many friends at First Baptist New Orleans, other church families, and the NOBTS community,” he said.
The same people who prayed for Harwood and encouraged him during his deployment lined the streets of the NOBTS campus to share in the joy of his return.