On a remote military base, Jason Gunnels preaches to a gathering of airmen. He can see the eagerness and spiritual hunger on the faces in front of him. After ending in prayer, many help return the chairs in the corner of the mess hall, and a number stay to talk with Gunnels individually, to ask questions about discipleship or to share with him about specific struggles.
As an Air Force chaplain, Gunnels has served at military sites throughout the continent of Africa. It’s a role he felt he was made for—one that not only fed his appetite for adventure but also fueled his passion for sharing the light of Christ with those in dangerous or stressful situations. “I was a traveling preacher, basically,” he says. “And what I found out was, if I wasn’t there, they didn’t have a service.” After his lessons, Gunnels was often asked for spiritual resources, such as DVDs or audio files of sermons. But he had little to leave with people made hungry by the Word.
Then Gunnels was reassigned to the American Forces Network (AFN), a broadcast operation serving the U.S. military in about 170 countries. As Religious Programming Staff Chaplain, he has responsibility for acquiring and assessing the network’s programs. And with AFN’s potential reach of over half a million service members and their families, he doesn’t take his role lightly.
It wasn’t until after taking the position that he realized the scope and availability of television and radio sermons broadcasted directly to the military. He was especially encouraged to find In Touch Ministries among the lineup. “The night before I graduated high school, I made a profession of faith and my neighbor gave me a book called Eternal Security by Charles Stanley,” he says.
Gunnels misses his days working with airmen on Air Force installations. Longing for opportunities to share the love and hope of Christ directly, he spends a majority of his free time ministering to others. On weekends he’s working parties as a professional magician, playing ukulele for residents at a nearby senior facility, or serving as a volunteer chaplain at a sheriff’s department.
But he knows his post at the American Forces Network is only for a season. Religious programming chaplains rotate every three years, and Gunnels is nearing the end of his time on staff. He’s grateful to glimpse the bigger picture of how the gospel is reaching those he’s committed to pastoring. He feels better equipped to direct men and women to specific discipleship resources, including the In Touch Ministries broadcast. “Dr. Charles Stanley is going to come on everywhere in the world. People can watch no matter where they are.”
Though eager to get back on the field, Gunnels finds purpose in his current role. His days may not have the same thrill they once had, when he was traveling and ministering in remote areas of the world. But now that he’s seeing the global impact of God’s work through the American Forces Network, he’s experiencing a new and more fulfilling zeal for the gospel.
Photography by Ivan Kashinsky