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A Unique Mission Field

A Unique Mission Field

Army Chaplain Travis Dalsis sees himself as a missionary to the soldiers in his care.
  • Nancy Gruben
  • October 28, 2021

Already married and working as a middle school teacher, Travis Dalsis ’16 MDiv wasn’t expecting a new call to become an Army chaplain. Yet, while watching a video about the Chaplain Corps—he just knew. He likens the experience to the sound inside a vending machine after the coins have been inserted—thu-chunk. Everything just fell into place.

Growing up in an unchurched home, Travis had become a Christian at age 15 through the outreach of a nearby church. Soon after, he felt God calling him to preach. Now both these calls came together: God was asking him to minister and care for soldiers.

With his wife, Leah, as his biggest supporter, Travis saw God open every door along that path—which is longer and more rigorous than most people realize. Travis had joined the Army Reserves in 2012 and would now need more training, certifications, and at least two years of ministry or professional work experience. So, in addition to a residency as a hospital chaplain, in 2016 he helped plant a church with Friendship Church in Canton, Michigan—the same congregation that first introduced him to Christ. He also began pursuing his Master of Divinity degree through Moody Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan.

‘Missional type of work’

After graduating, he applied to the Army Chaplain Corps, and in 2018 he entered active duty with the rank of Captain. During his first assignment, at Fort Polk, Louisiana, he embraced his belief in the importance of a ministry of presence. As he explains, chaplains do their work by “being there.”

“The chaplaincy is missional type of work,” says Travis, now chaplain with the 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “A ministry of engagement or presence—it’s what I do every day with my soldiers. Whether that’s talking with them, doing PT with them, or stopping by the motor pool, offering them a breakfast burrito, and picking up a wrench.”

An ‘energizer bunny’

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by those around him. During his time at Fort Polk, Travis was described as an “energizer bunny” by Garrison Chaplain Derrick Riggs, who said, “He runs with them, sweats with them, hurts with them, does everything with them. He’s the most integrated and most influential battalion chaplain on the entire installation. He loves his soldiers, he loves his Lord, he loves his family.”

A key role of a military chaplain is to advocate and support the religious rights of all who serve, no matter what their background is. This is where Travis leans into his deep belief in God’s ultimate authority and control of all things.

“Regardless of a soldier’s faith, I am their chaplain,” Travis says. “For some, there may be a struggle to work pluralistically. But I am called to be in the Army and work with people of different faiths. Even if we don’t agree, I meet them where they are and know God is sovereign and that opportunities will come when God appoints them to come.”

Moody’s influence on his chaplaincy

Travis credits Moody professor Dr. Brian Tucker MA ’02 for helping him live out this process.

“He taught us the importance of identifying and expressing our own theology,” Travis says. “Knowing and being able to articulate my faith makes me more comfortable in a pluralistic environment. I know who I am and what I believe, no matter who I’m speaking with. And in practice, as long as a soldier knows I care about them, whether that soldier is an atheist or of another faith completely, I’ve always found they will listen and are open to my help.”

Travis, who received Moody’s distinguished expository preaching/homiletics award, also recalls the influence of Dr. Eric Moore, the Moody professor who helped him to better teach and talk in front of groups—another important component of his duties as a chaplain.

Travis works hard every day to live out the three core competencies essential to his work.

Three key roles in his ministry

“The first competency is to nurture the living,” Travis explains. “This means I support the spiritual, emotional, and physical growth of each soldier in my unit. I also care for the wounded—being there in moments of crisis, representing the presence of God. And finally, I am called to honor the fallen, which includes participating in funerals and memorial ceremonies for those who have sacrificed their lives for their country.”

Travis creates events like resiliency training, lunch-and-learn training, and a recent “date night” where couples cooked a meal and ate together. He counsels soldiers suffering through fractured relationships or tough news from home. He recently led a memorial service when a soldier’s daughter was killed in a car accident.

As Travis travels alongside soldiers in their daily lives, experiencing similar hardships, he identifies with the incarnational work of Jesus Christ. “Jesus took on flesh and became man. Chaplains take on this uniform and we learn what it means to be an Army soldier,” he says. “We are like missionaries who go into a culture, learn that culture, and are part of that culture. Our job is to be a calming presence in their lives; to let them know they’re not going through their struggles alone.”

About the Author

  • Nancy Gruben