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Air Force Chaplain Engages in Faith-Based Cooperation in Africa
"Religion is so central to the lives of people in Africa," said 17th Air Force Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Rex Williams. He should know. The chaplain has been representing U.S. Africa Command while working with chaplains and religious leaders
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) Command Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Rex Williams prepares material on the Department of Defense HIV/AIDs Prevention Program for U.S. Africa Command Theater Security Engagements. Williams recently joined U.S. Africa Command's Deputy Command Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Mark Barnes on a trip to Namibia for a faith-based cooperation event focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sergeant Jim Fisher)
1 photo: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 1 of 1: RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) Command Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Rex Williams prepares material on the Department of Defense HIV/AIDs Prevention Program for U.S. Africa Command Theater Security Engagements. Williams recently joined U.S. Africa Command's Deputy Command Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Mark Barnes on a trip to Namibia for a faith-based cooperation event focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sergeant Jim Fisher) Download full-resolution version
"Religion is so central to the lives of people in Africa," said 17th Air Force Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Rex Williams. He should know. The chaplain has been representing U.S. Africa Command while working with chaplains and religious leaders from across the African continent.

He recently joined U.S. Africa Command's Deputy Command Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Mark Barnes, on two trips to partner nations in Africa. After traveling to Botswana in March, the pair journeyed to Namibia May 11-14, 2009 for a comprehensive Theater Security Cooperation event.

The first event focused on HIV/AIDS prevention, one of the three major focus areas of the U.S. Africa Command Chaplain's office, and included representatives from 26 African nations currently involved in the Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program. The other event included 20 Namibian Chaplains in a symposium on chaplaincy professionalization, the second focus area.

Both events touched on some of the major aspects of U.S. Africa Command's Chaplain Program, Williams explained, which includes Religious Leader Liaison as its third focus area. In Namibia, portions of the four-day event were dedicated to all three areas.

"I think they were very eager to improve their skills," Williams said. "Chaplain Barnes and I expressed to the [Namibian] chaplains our desire to learn from them, because there is so much we don't know about how things are done in chaplaincy programs there. They also expressed a desire to learn from us, and I am not sure who learned more over the four days. But I was gratified at how open the exchange of ideas was - there was a great give and take in sharing our knowledge and ideas."

The exchange of ideas is key to the chaplain program engagement, according to Williams. The programs hinge on a faith-based approach that draws on moral precepts common to all major religions. The HIV/AIDS program is a good example. It is not specific to or centered on a specific religion.

"The program is tailored to address the chaplain corps in existence on the continent, which are primarily Christian and Muslim. However, we can adapt the program to African Traditional Religions and other religions as well," Williams said. "It takes into account aspects of moral teaching common to major faiths: the golden rule, prohibition of adultery and the value of abstinence."

According to the Chaplain, faith-based programs have slowed the spread of HIV/AIDS when applied on the continent. Reaching military members and their families is especially important, he added.

"Because of various reasons including their age, income and mobility, soldiers can help stop the spread of the disease," the Chaplain said. "So we've developed a faith-based program for the militaries of Africa."

In the Namibian capital of Windhoek, areas covered during the event also included suicide prevention, caring for caregivers and the role of the chaplain assistant. The event was orchestrated by HIV/AIDS prevention program managers from the U.S. Embassy and the Namibian Defense Forces.

"They were excellent hosts," said Williams, adding that he was very interested in the tour of impoverished areas of the city and to see firsthand the impact non-governmental organizations are making in the area.

Overall, the two trips to Africa left him with a better estimation of the importance of faith to Africans.

"It's been a real eye-opener for many Americans," Williams said. "During the conference in Botswana, we opened each session with a prayer and actually had a Christian worship chorus one day, and everyone was invited to sing along."

"The point has been made many times and in many ways by students of life on the African continent. Religion is much more central to the lives of people in Africa. It was heartening to see such a display of faith."

The American chaplains will continue broadening their understanding of faith on the African continent as the program expands. According to Williams, several other chaplain corps in partner nations have expressed interest in similar engagements.
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