by Joshua Gibbon
God caught Frank Langford by surprise when he opened the door for him to become a defence force chaplain at age 52. While he didn’t anticipate this development after 26 years of ministry, chaplaincy has proved to recalibrate and reinvigorate his calling.
Frank’s magnetism towards defence force chaplaincy found its genesis when he was saved through the ministry of an Army chaplain himself as a young soldier.
Frank served in the Australian Army as a musician between 1980 and 1988. Being the Eighties, Frank was not formally deployed in war but had the amazing opportunity to travel the world playing music, which he loved. It was in this setting, perhaps surprisingly, that Frank found Jesus.
“I was converted at the Paddington Church of Christ under the ministry of Denby Holmes, who at that time was an Army chaplain based at Victoria Barracks, Sydney.”
While Frank served in the Army band for a further four years, this encounter with Christ recalibrated his internal compass, and before long, Frank found a yearning towards pastoral ministry.
“I concluded my time in the Army, and I went to Bible College at the Carlingford Theological College, graduating in 1991. From there, I spent the next 26 years in pastoral ministry at Toowoomba North Church of Christ, Hurstville Church of Christ and Riverside Christian Church.”
Frank spoke of these years fondly, having found his God-given purpose to tend to people spiritually. However, in his 50s, Frank stumbled upon what he now calls the greatest opportunity of his ministry yet.
Frank found himself sitting with the Willis brothers at a ministry refresher. Mark, at the time, was the Air Force Principal Chaplain and Peter was a Colonel in Army chaplaincy. Peter asked Frank if he was interested in rejoining as a chaplain. As a 52-year-old, Frank recalls replying at that moment, “Mate, am I too old?” Peter replied, “Can you do a 7.5 beep test?”
Frank said, “Hell no!”, to which Mark said, “Get that under your belt, and we’ll let you in!”
Frank trained hard, completed the beep test, which is a speed and endurance running test, and rejoined the defence force as a chaplain in 2017.
In the following years, Frank has been posted in Sydney, Wagga, Canberra and now Townsville, with short-term trips to Singleton, Townsville, Covid Assist in 2021 and the short-term trip to France and Belgium in 2022. Known as ‘Padre’ to the soldiers he works with, Frank absolutely loves what he gets to do. While he isn’t allowed to directly engage men and women in conversation about faith, many of them come to him in their toughest moments, and God becomes a natural part of their curiosity and conversation.
Frank shared that one of the highlights of his ministry was the day 400 soldiers filled a chapel in Wagga and sang the worship song 10,000 Reasons together. He also had the honour of baptising two soldiers while serving in Kapooka.
“And so, I pursued it, and I tell you, it’s revitalised me in my mission. Where I was dealing with 99 per cent saved people within the local church setting, I am now dealing with 99 per cent non-Christian within the defence force.”
The Life of a Padre
To Frank, being ‘Padre’ is the greatest opportunity in his 30 years of ministry so far. However, as with any ministry, it comes with sacrifices and tricky moments.
Frank was informed of his next posting to Townsville a few months after returning from Europe. He has since taken on the role of chaplain with the 5th Aviation Regiment, caring for the Army pilots and ground staff based at RAAF Base Townsville. While he is posted there, Frank’s wife, Karyn, will continue to live in Sydney. While they commit to seeing one another each month, this is a huge sacrifice for this ministry that they have made together.
“This isn’t the norm, but sometimes as defence members, we need to make these decisions,” Frank said. “I’m not saying it’s harder than pastoral ministry, but there are some unique challenges that we have to work through.”
The other challenge is the sheer enormity of the work. Frank’s unit has roughly 500 personnel. That’s 500 souls to care for and only one chaplain between them, which makes Frank a very busy pastor.
For this reason, most mornings Frank begins his day at 4:30am for personal training and runs five kilometres to clear his mind and prepare his heart for the day.
While on a run during his first week in Townsville this year, Frank was ‘arrested’ by the air force security police.
He’d been running in the dark of the morning when defence security police approached him, questioning why he was running so early. Being in his running gear and out of uniform, Frank looked pretty out of place.
The officers asked him to identify himself, and Frank greeted them warmly and said, “Hey guys, I’m the new Padre at 5AVN.”
Unfortunately, the officers were looking for formal identification, which Frank had left in his room. They were good-humoured and could see the comedy of the situation, but procedures had to be followed, and Frank was escorted to his room to produce his I.D.
This incident immediately upped Frank’s profile on the base and proved to be a great icebreaker with the soldiers.
While there are tricky elements of living and ministering on an army base, Frank can be Christ’s presence to men and women who don’t know Him in their toughest moments.
Last year, Frank was in Townsville during the Queensland and New South Wales floods when he was called to check in on a distressed young soldier. When he found him, the young man was crying and deeply upset.
After needing some time to calm down, he told Frank that the farm he had bought for his parents to work on was completely submerged in floodwater. They’d lost all their cattle, sheep and working dogs, and his mum, dad and brother were stranded on their roof without phone reception.
Frank told him, “Mate, I can’t even begin to imagine what you are feeling right now, but I know God can make a difference.”
Frank asked him if he was a praying man. The young soldier replied, “Not really, but I would really appreciate it.”
Frank’s prayer was simple. He said, “Lord, I don’t know what to ask for, but safety first for the family, and if there is any way we could get in contact with them, we’d really appreciate it.” He closed the prayer by asking if there was any way God could send a helicopter, that would be icing on the cake!
After the prayer, Frank asked him to step outside and try to call them one more time. Suddenly, the soldier got through to his mum, and Frank could hear him outside exclaiming, “Mum! Mum!”
“So, while he’s on the phone, I ring up our SES Senior Chaplain Steve Hall to see if there was any indication of them being rescued,” Frank recalled. “Steve said the emergency services were inundated and didn’t think they could get there to help at that stage.”
Two days later, Frank got a call from the young soldier.
They had a laugh, Frank said, ‘Praise God!’ and told him not to underestimate the power of prayer. As Frank left that conversation, he said to himself, “I can believe it!” He did not doubt that God would come through for him.
This is just one of many stories Frank can testify to of God meeting soldiers in their moments of need. It’s these opportunities that convince Frank that defence force chaplaincy is one of the most thrilling places he’s been as a minister for the gospel.
To read about Frank’s recent mission posting to Europe to facilitate memorial services for fallen soldiers, head here.
Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE