Three chaplains walk into a chapel…
A Kenyan catholic priest, Anglican priest, and Muslim imam walk into a chapel…
This is not the start of a joke, but the beginning of a new partnership between Kenyan and U.S. military chaplains when members from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa's Office of Religious Affairs invited Kenyan army Lieutenant Col. Alfayo Lelei; Kenyan air force Lieutenant Col. Lucas Gatobu; and Kenyan army Maj. Mohamed Shukry here Feb. 11-18 to discuss ways to better serve U.S. and Kenyan service members' spiritual needs.
"We believe that what makes a soldier fight is his spirit. That important component of the soldier, his spirit, has to be ministered to," Lelei, the Anglican priest, said, as the chaplains visited service members across Camp Lemonnier.
Lelei cited Prof. John Mbithi, a renowned expert of religion in Africa, who said that Africans are notoriously religious and religion permeates all aspects of life. The chaplains discussed Mbithi's principle and how their collaboration can enhance military partnerships since religion is so important to East Africans.
"This partnership builds relationships that contribute to a stable and secure Africa which is in the best interest of the U.S. and other East African nations," U.S. Navy Chaplain (Capt.) Phillip Lee, Jr., director, CJTF-HOA Office of Religious Affairs, said.
The week began with introductions and a tour of the camp. On Ash Wednesday, which marked the beginning of Lent, Lelei and Gatobu participated in the Protestant and Catholic services here by applying ashes to service members. In addition, Shukry officiated a prayer event at the Muslim prayer tents here.
Overall, the Kenyan chaplains said the training regarding combat stress was the most beneficial. With Kenyan troops currently in Somalia, Gatobu said this training came at an ideal time and strengthened their ability to meet their troops' needs.
"In Kenya, each chaplain has their own house of worship," said Gatobu during Sunday Mass. "Chaplains from different faiths interacting on a regular basis and working together is something we're taking back."
In turn, the Kenyan chaplains shared their experiences learned in Somalia and taught the U.S. chaplains another type of perspective.
"We learned how to protect spirituality from being consumed by the demands of everyday living. Incorporate spirituality into everything you do," Lee said.
Moving forward, the two groups of chaplains hope to expand combat stress training. For example, the CJTF-HOA chaplains would like to help the Kenyans develop their own cadre of trainers to help the Kenyan Defense Force be better-equipped to deal with combat stress. They also hope to work together on initiatives to make the partnership stronger between the two countries, including arranging a visit by the Kenyans to the chaplain school in the U.S. and possibly attending a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations together in Italy.
By week's end, both countries' military chaplains agreed the experience was educational and productive.
"Each kind of opportunity we get to do this kind of exchange unites our two countries operationally and, more importantly, spiritually," Shukry said.