From Military Commander to “Soldier of Christ”
As told by Mark Lewis
“Good morning, Your Majesty.” “Good afternoon, Your Excellency.” “Good evening, Prime Minister.” These were some of the greetings I used as a pilot and the Commanding Officer of the Royal Australian Air Force VIP squadron. I flew heads of State and government dignitaries throughout Australia and around the world. Now, however, I do something far more rewarding. Let me explain.
I WAS born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1951 and was raised in a military family. At 15 years of age, I joined a gliding club. So began a lifelong love of flying.
Soon afterward, my parents separated, and our family disintegrated. The commanding officer of an Air Force jet fighter squadron and his family kindly took me in while I finished high school. His influence prompted me to become an officer cadet at the Royal Australian Air Force Academy.
I Received My “Wings”
Some six years later, I graduated as an Air Force officer with a science degree and my pilot’s wings. My first job involved flying military transport aircraft throughout Australia, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia. We often flew through high mountain passes and into deep valleys where we landed on grass airstrips. It was dangerous work. Our squadron lost several planes and some good people in those years. Yet, our missions helped those who lived in isolated regions. We flew in materials for bridges, small bulldozers for use in building roads, emergency food aid, and medical teams. We also flew on medical evacuations.
In 1978, I qualified as a flying instructor and returned to the Air Force Academy to join the teaching staff. Here I renewed my acquaintance with Diane, a young widow with a three-year-old daughter. Diane’s husband had been an Academy classmate of mine but later died in a flying accident. When I asked her to marry me, she asked for time to think about it. She wasn’t sure that she wanted another pilot for a husband.
In the meantime, I accepted a 12-month posting as an Aide-de-Camp to the Governor-General of Australia. Life at Government House, in Canberra, gave me insight into the workings of political life and involved close association with civil, military, and religious authorities. When my tenure there ended, I resumed work as a flying instructor. Diane and I married soon afterward, in 1980.
In 1982, I accepted a two-year exchange assignment with the United States Air Force as a flying-safety officer and an aircraft-accident investigator. The work took me throughout the United States and as far afield as Northern Ireland. It involved investigating aircraft accidents and evaluating aircraft design and flying operations with a view to improving safety.
Back to Australia
After I returned to Australia, our family grew to four when our daughter Kerry was born. Because of my workload, Diane was mother and father to our girls, and our family life suffered. Three years later, I received my first command—the Air Force VIP squadron, mentioned earlier. When the Persian Gulf War broke out in 1991, my squadron supported that UN operation and then others in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa, and Israel.
In 1992, I became Staff Officer to the Chief of the Defence Force. Serving as a personal assistant to the most senior military commander in Australia gave me a close-up view of the relationship between the military, politics, and the UN. I concluded that the UN was flawed in many ways. Yet, it seemed to be our only hope for a better world. Then developments at home made me reevaluate my views.
Diane’s Questions Answered
After her first husband died, Diane, a Roman Catholic, had searched for answers to her questions, but in vain. Matters became more serious, however, when our older daughter, Renee, developed an interest in the occult. While at a friend’s house, Diane noticed an issue of Awake! announcing an upcoming article on Satanism.* She had never seen Awake! before. All the way home, she thought, ‘How can I get hold of that issue?’
Three days later Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door, and Diane got her magazine. Later she accepted a Bible study and then began attending Christian meetings. I was happy for her to study and even accompanied her to some meetings, but I didn’t feel the need to get involved. I did not consider myself to be religious. I believed in God but had seen too much hypocrisy to take religion seriously. I could not understand, for example, why military chaplains preached love and peace but supported war.
Diane discreetly left copies of The Watchtower and Awake! around for me to read. I read some of them and carefully returned them to their original position. I didn’t want her to think I might be interested. As my Bible knowledge grew, two scripture references troubled me. One was Revelation 19:17, 18, which spoke of birds eating the fleshy parts of “military commanders.” The other was Revelation 17:3, which mentioned “a scarlet-colored wild beast.” The Witnesses saw this beast as a symbol of the UN, a view that challenged my ideas about that world body.* But I pushed any questions to the back of my mind.
In 1993, Diane invited me to attend her baptism. Her request caught me off guard. I asked her, “If you had to choose, would you choose Jehovah or me?” She answered: “Jehovah. But it doesn’t have to be a choice. I want you both in my life.” I realized then that I needed to learn more about this other person in her life. A local Christian elder offered to study the Bible with me, and I accepted.
I became very interested in Bible prophecy, particularly as it relates to military and political history. For example, during my Air Force training, I had studied the military exploits of the ancient Greeks. I now learned that much of that history had been recorded centuries in advance in Daniel chapter 8. This prophecy, and others, gradually convinced me that the Bible is inspired of God.
I also took a fresh look at the UN. I knew that the military could not solve mankind’s problems, that real peace could not come from the threat of war, and that the UN could not resolve the political, religious, and ethnic divisions that foment war. I began to see that only God could solve mankind’s problems. Indeed, it appeared that he was already doing so among the global brotherhood of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Psalm 133:1; Isaiah 2:2-4) ‘But could I leave my military career to serve God?’ I wondered.
Taking a Stand for Bible Truth
Matters came to a head in 1994 when I attended a district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sydney. The program featured a full-costume Bible drama that highlighted the choice the ancient nation of Israel had to make between serving Jehovah or Baal, a Canaanite god. Jehovah’s prophet Elijah challenged the Israelites: “How long will you be limping upon two different opinions? If Jehovah is the true God, go following him; but if Baal is, go following him.” (1 Kings 18:21) Those words cut deeply into my heart. Like the Israelites, I was sitting on the fence. I needed to make a choice: Would I serve Jehovah or continue my military career?
Driving home that night, I told Diane I was going to leave the Air Force to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was surprised by the suddenness of my decision but was fully supportive. Several days later my decision still hadn’t changed, so I handed in my resignation.
At that time, I was the Commanding Officer of the Corps of Officer Cadets at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, the national capital. I oversaw the military and academic training of some 1,300 Army, Navy, and Air Force officer cadets and staff. On the last day of the academic year, I told an assembly of 400 senior cadets and staff that I was leaving the military to go from house to house teaching people the Bible as a volunteer Christian minister. That announcement led to some interesting discussions.
Becoming a Full-Time Minister
I started in the preaching work the day after my resignation took effect. Three months later, in April 1995, I was baptized. Then, at the earliest opportunity, I enrolled as a regular pioneer minister, which meant spending my full time in the public ministry.
My transformation from military commander to “soldier of Christ” meant making numerous adjustments. (2 Timothy 2:3) One of my first assignments was handling microphones during Christian meetings. Instead of giving orders, I had to learn to ask for things to be done. Consideration and love became more important than efficiency, although I still struggle to balance these qualities. And because of my reduced income, our family had to simplify our lifestyle.
I really enjoyed the preaching work and still do. Once when witnessing with our then nine-year-old daughter Kerry, I asked her to observe the reactions of the householders. We soon saw that many people were not interested but that some were nice and even interested. It was encouraging for both of us. Our other daughter studied the Bible for a while but has chosen not to serve Jehovah at this time.
Diane and I encouraged Kerry to reach out for the full-time ministry. Recently, I had the thrill of attending the Pioneer Service School with her. It was her first time and my second. What a joy it is to see her and other young ones progressing spiritually and pursuing the Christian ministry!—Psalm 110:3.
Blessings in Abundance
Looking back, I see parallels and contrasts between serving in the military and being a soldier of Christ. Both roles require loyalty, obedience, integrity, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice. But while many in the military may be willing to die for their country and friends, true Christians are called upon to love even their enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48) And whereas military heroes can be decorated for a single act of courage, true Christians gain God’s approval by enduring in faithful service—which may mean showing courage in the face of opposition, ridicule, and other trials year after year. (Hebrews 10:36-39) Fellow Christians are the finest people I know.
In contrast with the greetings mentioned at the start of this story, my greetings nowadays are “Good morning, Sister,” or “Good evening, Brother.” What a joy it is to serve in the Christian ministry with people who truly love God! The greatest honor, though, is to serve the Most High, Jehovah, himself! I could not think of a more rewarding way to spend my life.
Published in the October 22, 1989, issue, pages 2-10.
See pages 240-3 of the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand! published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Blurb on page 14]
While many in the military may be willing to die for their country and friends, true Christians are called upon to love even their enemies
[Picture on page 12, 13]
Flying an Air Force VIP jet over Parliament House, Canberra
[Picture on page 15]
Bible drama, 1994 district convention in Sydney, Australia
[Picture on page 15]
With Kerry at the Pioneer Service School
[Picture on page 15]
With Diane and Kerry today