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Men's agency helps Boy Scout republish wartime devotional

10/25/2001 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of Evan Hunsberger is available.

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - Sixty years ago, the United Methodist Publishing House provided servicemen going off to war with a book of daily devotional readings.

The publication, Strength for Service to God and Country, comforted Eugene Hunsberger and many soldiers during World War II and subsequently the Korean conflict. It provided them with scripture, prayers and personal stories to help them deal with times of despair, helplessness, sickness and death. Hunsberger, a chaplain, carried the devotional everywhere, and it was his constant companion until his death a few years ago. The book contained daily devotional writings prepared by leading theologians, pastors and scholars of that era.

The book has not been reprinted since the Korean War ended in 1953, but Hunsberger's grandson is working on changing that. Evan Hunsberger, 15, of Orange, Calif., wants to preserve the legacy of the book and provide it as a spiritual resource to the community, state and nation.

Two years ago, he launched a significant project to earn his Eagle Scout Award, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America. He wanted to republish the 1941 devotional to provide spiritual comfort to men and women everywhere. His grandfather, also active in scouting, read to Scouts from the book over campfires and helped many gain merit badges.

Young Hunsberger gained permission from Abingdon, an imprint of the United Methodist Publishing House, to reprint the book using another publisher. Then, with assistance from his Scout troop, his parents and brother and sister, he worked to update the devotional. Keeping the original texts, they edited the book to include appropriate inclusive language in regard to racial and ethnic groups and nationalities. More than 2,500 hours -- higher than the average 150 hours to achieve an Eagle rank -- have gone into this project so far, and it's not finished yet. Hunsberger put off becoming an Eagle Scout while other troop members received their honors.

When the work is completed and one book is printed, Hunsberger will earn his Eagle rank. The project also took on ecumenical dimensions when he solicited prayer contributions from some of the country's noted theologians and pastors from a variety of faiths and traditions, including Jews and Catholics, as well as from groups such as African Americans and women that were omitted in the 1941 publication.

A Catholic, Hunsberger turned to the Commission on United Methodist Men in Nashville and asked if it would sponsor the project, since the book was originally published by a United Methodist agency. Through the commission's Office of Scouting Ministries, the United Methodist Church is the largest charter organization of Boy Scouts of America. Membership in the scouting organization through local United Methodist churches totals more than 421,000 in 11,738 Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Venture crews. More than 8,000 United Methodist churches charter at least one Scout unit.

During an Oct. 18-19 meeting of the commission's executive committee, the agency endorsed the project's concept and supported distribution plans. The executive committee acted on behalf of the 39-member commission, which cancelled its annual meeting following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The commission is developing strategies, including obtaining grants and other financing, to enable the 416-page Strength for Service to God and Country devotional to reach a wide audience, including military bases around the nation and men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces worldwide.

The book is especially significant because the number of people searching for spiritual well-being has risen and will continue to rise, according to Larry Coppock, the national director for the denomination's Scouting ministries. The commission, he said, is seeking to get the devotional distributed at no cost to military personnel and reservists as a way to respond to Sept. 11.

Coppock and other commissioners found the devotional to be almost prophetic after reading the original text for the Sept. 11 entry a few days following the terrorist attacks on the country. "It looked like it had been written exactly for that day, even though it had been written 60 years before. It was so appropriate," he said.

Acknowledging the excellence of Eagle projects, Coppock said, Hunsberger's stands out because of its "in-depth meaning and its potential to impact thousands of people in the country with a godly resource."

Coppock identifies with the young Scout. His father and uncle fought in WWII, and his father carried a steel-covered Bible. "I think about them being very fortunate to have that as a resource during their time in battle," he said. "This devotional brings it home for me," he said. The Bible his father carried is one of his most cherished possessions.

"We don't know what is going to happen in the coming months, but we are fortunate to have the opportunity to publish this kind of resource that will be available to so many people and comfort them."

Commission officials say the publication will eventually be distributed to police and fire personnel, auxiliary groups such as Elks clubs, and individuals. To accomplish this, the effort will move beyond the scope of the United Methodist Men to possible partners in chaplaincy organizations, the National Council of Churches, interfaith groups and others in the ecumenical community.

Staff members at United Methodist Men and publishing staff at Providence Publishing Corp. in Franklin, Tenn., are working on completing the devotional. The reissued publication will have the original text although edited for inclusiveness where appropriate. In the spirit of inclusiveness, the devotional also will offer three prayers that reflect Jewish holy days such as Yom Kippur and three Islamic holy months such as Ramadan.

Bishop Ernest Lyght of New York, president of the Commission on United Methodist Men, said Sept. 11 changed the world just as World War II did 60 years ago. Although today's war is a different type - a war on terrorism - the questions of "Who will serve?" and "What becomes of those who serve" always arise. The original Strength for Service to God and Country was created to strengthen those serving their nation, many of whom were drafted, many who volunteered to serve, he said.

He expressed the hope that the revised book would be a source of strength for men and women in military service today. "I think the book is a creative opportunity to be in ministry because we never know how a daily devotional would be a bulwark of support for the individual who reads it in the midst of the circumstances they find themselves in."

Harold Batiste, a member of the commission and a member of Windcrest United Methodist Church in San Antonio, said the devotional is "tremendous, timely and certainly apropos when we consider the circumstances that we find ourselves." Batiste served as a hospital administrator in the U.S. Air Force for 30 years.

His tour of duty began after the Korean War and he also served during the Vietnam War. He said he received a daily devotional, which he cherished. He said the book offered him solace, strength and provided him with Words of God.

"In conflict, we need some things to hang on to ... and a book like this is excellent because it is tangible and can be conveniently carried. It is something that those going on active duty can take from home and be reminded that it is a gift and more importantly, be reminded and know that it is the Bible."

In other action, the Commission on United Methodist Men:
· Received the 2001 Men's Ministry of the Year Award from the National Coalition of Men's Ministries.
· Learned about a survey being developed with assistance from the Council on Ministries' research office to examine men's spiritual life in the United Methodist Church.
· Formed a task force to further develop T-Quest, the personal and spiritual journey study for men.
· Learned that its old Web site domain, to which many people are still linked in a variety of ways, is home to a pornographic site. The legitimate Web site for the United Methodist Men is www.gcumm.org.
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*Green is news director of the Nashville, Tenn.,-based office of United Methodist News Se

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