Soldier’s low point in faith leads to his enlightenment
Jerry Boykin has a story of faith that has carried him through the death and destruction of numerous war zones.
It is a faith he now uses to witness to others as a warrior for God.
From Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada to Operation Just Cause in Panama, from Operation Restore Hope in Somalia to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Boykin carried his faith wherever the Army’s Delta Force took him. It is a faith that followed Boykin through a 36-year Army career, leading to prayer-answered miracles of survival, and testing him through the failure of missions and the death of Soldiers under his command.
And, at the darkest moment in his faith, Boykin remembers calling out to God, “Where were you? Did you not hear my prayers?”
The retired lieutenant general, now an ordained minister and author of “Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom,” shared that low point and other experiences of faith during a presentation that was part of a Fourth of July celebration at Willowbrook Baptist Church that honored servicemembers.
Quoting from Exodus 15:3 and Revelations 19, Boykin told the congregation that Christians, “as the body of Christ, should be warriors of God’s kingdom. I believe God has a special place for warriors. We need to be warriors for God’s kingdom.”
Boykin became a member of the elite Delta Force in 1978 over the objections of an Army psychologist.
“He said I wouldn’t fit in because I was too religious. But they took me anyhow,” said Boykin, who was 29 at the time. “During my first two years in Delta Force, the commander treated me with absolute contempt. He’d been around Christians before who compromised their beliefs, who didn’t stay true to the Bible when they were tested.”
But in April 1980, as Boykin and the Delta Force prepared in the Egyptian desert to invade Tehran, Iran, to rescue 52 American hostages, his commander asked him to pray.
“I realized I met the standard. I lived the faith,” he said. “I led the prayer as 100 men got ready to enter a city of 5 million to find 52 Americans. At the end of the prayer, I said ‘God bless America.’”
The mission was racked with failure. As they prepared to leave the desert, a helicopter lifted off and then crashed onto a C-130 military transport aircraft that was carrying 45 members of the Delta Force team. A huge fireball erupted from the crash.
“Those men were trapped inside and I just knew they were dead and it would be a recovery mission,” Boykin recalled. “I prayed, ‘God, don’t let them die. They trusted you.’ I just knew they were dead.
“All of a sudden, a door opened and 45 men jumped out of that C-130. They were spared that night and I’d seen a miracle. I knew those men had a mighty presence with them in that C-130.”
Even though the night mission failed, Boykin’s faith was buoyed by the safe return of the entire unit.
In 1983, Boykin led a Delta Force mission to gain intelligence on the troop buildup by North Korea.
“The Soldiers said they were not going to launch until I prayed,” he recalled. “I stood on the loading dock and asked God to give us success. I asked Him to keep His hand upon us. And I finished with ‘God bless America.’ We lost that mission, too.”
Again, on a mission in Grenada, Boykin prayed. But again the mission failed. He was in a Black Hawk that was hit by rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire. Boykin was hit in the side of his chest by bullets from a .50 caliber machine gun.
“I was a mess. I was bleeding bad. I was hurting bad. I was fading in and out,” he recalled.
Doctors at Fort Bragg, N.C., wanted to remove his left arm. Boykin was not in agreement with that decision. As he faded out again, he told them “Do the best you can. God will do the rest.”
The arm was not removed and eventually Boykin recovered.
“We still serve a miracle working God,” he said.
“I was in incredible pain. I asked, ‘Lord, why me?’ I thought how unfair this was. But the Bible says in this world we will have problems. Jesus came to tell us, ‘Take heart. I’ve overcome this world.’ It was time for me to stop feeling sorry for myself and concentrate on healing.”
In 1989, Boykin was part of a mission in Panama to apprehend Manuel Noriega.
“I prayed for us, ‘Lord, in the name of Jesus, go with us. God bless America.’ Then, we lost our operation,” he said.
In yet another mission, Boykin’s prayers and leadership went with Delta Force operators as they freed American Kurt Muse from a Panama prison. As they were leaving the prison with Muse, they started taking fire from the ground. The helicopter crashed in the streets of Panama City and, yet, the entire helicopter crew and Muse escaped.
“They should have all died. But God had them in the palm of His hand,” Boykin said.
Boykin’s faith was put to the toughest test in 1993, when he led Delta Force operations in Mogadishu, Somalia, to rescue peacekeepers who came under attack while trying to feed the hungry in the city.
As soon as the unit landed in the city, Boykin said, “I felt the presence of evil. You know how you can feel the spirit of God? I could feel the presence of evil in this place.”
The unit set up a chapel for worship and for sharing the word of God among the troops. When it was time to start operations, the Soldiers formed a circle in prayer.
“We prayed, ‘In this evil place, God keep us.’ The movie ‘Black Hawk Down’ only showed a small part of what we did. We went into that city seven times and fought tough firefights. A lot got killed,” he said.
On Oct. 3, Operation Irene was launched. Boykin prayed with the Soldiers, “Let Your hand be upon these warriors.” And then 99 Soldiers went into the city and became locked in battle to the death against an enemy of thousands.
“We fought for 18 hours. Fifteen of my men were dead. I watched on TV as five of those bodies were dragged through the streets and mutilated,” Boykin recalled.
“I asked, ‘God, where were you? Did you not hear my prayers?’ The dead came back in trucks with the injured. The dead were laid on the bottom of the truck beds and the injured laid on top of them. When I got to a truck that had just come back, I opened the back and blood poured out like water. I said, ‘God, where were you?’ I was so angry with God.”
In his head he heard the words, “There is no God because if there were a God, he would never let this happen.”
And then, God’s voice came to him: “If there is no God, there is no hope.”
Just as Peter denied Jesus in the Bible three times, Boykin realized he had denied God.
“I said to God, ‘I am so sorry I denied you.’ The moment I said that I was forgiven,” he said.
The next day, the unit had a memorial service for the dead. That evening, the base was attacked by mortars. Three exploded in the ocean near the base. The fourth hit six feet from where Boykin and two others were standing. The master sergeant standing next to him was killed and the lieutenant colonel next to him lost his legs.
“I was hit,” he recalled. “I said, ‘God, I can’t take this anymore. Lord, I don’t understand. I know I’m not supposed to. But give me something in your word that will help me.’”
That something became Isaiah 40:31 and Romans 5:19 with messages that told him to trust in the Lord and that Jesus suffered on the cross so that others would hear his message.
“I heard God say, ‘Jerry, were you obedient to me in Mogadishu? Did you share the message of Christ?’ I replied ‘Yes’ and he said to me ‘Then, I revealed myself to those men and they know me.’ We can accept him in the blink of an eye. They knew the truth and in a twinkling of an eye God revealed himself and they accepted.”
Boykin said he will see those warriors when he dies and goes to heaven.
“I will be at a dead run to those pearly gates. I will be muddy, battered and bruised. My spear will be dull,” he said. “I will see the Father and say, ‘I see the scars on your hands and your feet and your side.’ I have scars, too, scars that I got as a warrior for you … God loves the warrior, but to be his warrior you’ve got to know him.”