October 18 was the worst day of my life as I said goodbye to my home, family, and friends for the first time and left Houston, Texas, for boot camp in Chicago, Illinois.
After 9-11, in the spring of my senior year, I signed up to join the Navy following my graduation. It seemed the right choice at the time, but as the date for my departure approached I seriously doubted the wisdom of my decision. I tried to think of a way to get out of my commitment, but once you've signed on the dotted line with Uncle Sam, you belong to him, so I found myself alone, 1,000 miles from home and scared absolutely to death.
My first days of boot camp served only to deepen my despair. The work was difficult, the conditions troubling, and there was always someone yelling at me!
Three days after my arrival was Sunday, so I attended chapel, which made me even more homesick as I thought about my church family in Houston. As I left the service, one of the chaplains noticed my obviously distressed state and asked if I wanted to talk. He encouraged me and challenged me to give my fears and questions to God and to trust him to see me through the next nine weeks. That night as I got ready to go to bed, I felt a strong urge from God to get down on my knees and pray beside my bunk. I had never before been quite so public with my faith, but I was absolutely sure this was what God wanted me to do. I wasn't sure how my bunkmates would respond to this display, but I didn't care; I knew what I had to do.
The next night as I knelt to pray, the recruit next to me, a tough-looking African-American from inner-city Houston, tapped me on my shoulder and asked, "Josh, would you mind if I prayed with you?" So that night, one scared white boy from the suburbs and one tough black kid from the "hood" prayed together.
Little by little our prayer group began to grow. One of my friends, Justin, would never come and join us. He said he wasn't into the religion thing. I prayed for him and witnessed to him but I could never get him to come to a decision for God. On our last weekend I finally got Justin to attend chapel with me. A famous astronaut was speaking, and honestly I was thinking more about going home in three days than about the service. I wasn't even paying much attention as the invitation began until Justin poked me and said, "Josh, stand up with me. I want to give my heart to Jesus but I'm afraid to go up to the front by myself." Despite all my doubts and fears, I was beginning to understand why God had brought me to this place and this time in my life.
Three nights later, I knelt to pray with my new friends on our last night together at boot camp. During the prayer time I began to look around and count: it was me, my tough neighbor from Houston, my newly saved friend and 23 other soldiers all down on their knees beside the bunks pouring their hearts out to God. I never ever want to go through anything like boot camp again in my life. Yet it is an experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. I became more of a man during those nine weeks, but more importantly, I became more of a Christian.