(Resurrection House is a day shelter for homeless people here in Sarasota. I am the chaplain there.)
He sat next to me at the prayer service at Resurrection House this morning.
He was a big man, probably in his fifties.
As we prayed he began to sob. I placed my left hand on his shoulder. He spoke through his tears. “Can I ever be forgiven?” was his repeated question.
He had been a helicopter pilot in the U.S.A.F during the Vietnam War.
His brother had been drafted, so he volunteered so that his brother would not have to serve. (There was a policy not to have two people from the same family serving at the same time).
“Can I ever be forgiven?” He was haunted by the knowledge that his military actions had caused the deaths of young Vietnamese children. “I killed young innocent children” was his cry.
I listened carefully, and I assured him that he had already been forgiven. I expressed the hope that he would meet those children in “heaven” and be able to tell them that he was sorry. I encouraged him to get into a Vietnam era support group through the V.A.
I felt wimpy and inadequate as I ministered to this man. The best I could do was to listen.
Strange isn’t it, that after I had written just the other day about “collateral damage” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, I was led to experience the American side of collateral damage today.