Passing the Torch: A Tribute to Chaplain Ernest Harrison
By Brad Hanna
Chaplain Ernest Harrison had an impact on me through the years that I only recently began to realize and to fully appreciate. Many Free Will Baptists, especially in Oklahoma, knew Ernest well and loved him. He was a beloved pastor, colleague, and friend to many in our fellowship. Ernest went home to be with Jesus on July 31, 2016.
I became more familiar with Ernest while he was serving as executive director for the Oklahoma State Association. My family had moved to Oklahoma as church planters under the Oklahoma Mission Board in 1998. During one of our conversations, Ernest said to me, “Brad, you are young, and you look like you are in good shape. Have you ever thought about being an Army chaplain?”
I had given only brief consideration to the chaplaincy while a seminary student. However, my reply to him was that I could not do that because I was the pastor of a young church. It was then that he introduced me to the National Guard and the concept of citizen soldier. “Brad, I have been in the National Guard for over 16 years, and I have never deployed. We serve just one weekend a month and two weeks a year.”
We all laugh at that statement now. Prior to 9-11, the National Guard was used as a strategic reserve, there just in case something happened. The National Guard was rarely called upon during the Cold War years and following. However, when the War on Terror began, everything changed.
The National Guard sounded good to me. After a couple of years of prayer and research, I began serving as an Army chaplain. It was not long before both Chaplain Harrison and I deployed overseas.
From this point on, I began to see Ernest from a different perspective than most. I saw a man willing to get dirty as a soldier in order be at the right place to serve men and women in the military. I saw someone who kept a good attitude through challenging circumstances and continued to let his light shine. I observed him sharing the gospel unapologetically to hardened warriors, seeking hope and peace for their lives. I saw an encourager who welcomed new chaplains and committed to praying for us and giving advice when requested. Chaplain Harrison was a soldier’s chaplain. He had no problem taking off his coat and tie in exchange for camouflage and a Kevlar helmet. To this day, I have yet to hear one negative word spoken about this great man from anyone with whom he served.
It was only a few years after I joined the reserves that I sensed the call to serve as a chaplain full time. Fifteen years later, when I look back at anything God may have done through me, I am reminded that it took a man like Ernest Harrison to present the opportunity for this unique ministry. It was his prayer that God would send more men into the harvest field of military ministry. In some ways, I feel as though he simply passed the torch to me to carry a little further down the trail.
I am where I am today because of Ernest Harrison. I will always be thankful for him. When that final roll call is given and the eternal reveille sounds, I pray that others will be able to say of me, as we can say of Ernest, “He was a good Soldier of Jesus Christ. Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Well done, my friend! Thank you for your service to God and country.
About the Writer: Chaplain (Major) Brad Hanna serves as a full-time Free Will Baptist Army Chaplain with the Oklahoma Army National Guard. Learn more about chaplain ministry: www.FWBNAM.com.