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Life of service before self

U.S. Air Force Capt. Alex Lu, 633rd Air Base Wing chaplain, visits the Langley Chapel at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., July 25, 2017.

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Alex Lu, 633rd Air Base Wing, visits the Langley Chapel at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., July 25, 2017. After serving three years in the Army, Lu transitioned into the Air Force to be stationed closer to his parents through a humanitarian reassignment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Nin Leclerec)

Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. --

Going down life’s winding road, Chaplain (Capt.) Alex Lu, 633rd Air Base Wing, concluded he could plan for his future, but God would be the one to guide his path.  

Lu was born and raised in China, but his family, who was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, explained to him they planned to move and become citizens of the United States. It is through this journey that Lu found his identity and life’s mission.

A chance encounter

Lu grew up in China with a passion to learn about different cultures and languages. At the age of 21, he applied for and was accepted into a college in Germany. Little did he know, nearby Bible students would soon deliver his life’s purpose, the Gospel, to his door.

“I remembered my mom and my cousin would go to church but were so different from one another,” Lu said. “My mom was kind and giving, but my cousin was very vain, just trying to look the part for others to see. When the Bible students came, they showed a sincere love for God and the sharing of his word. It made me wonder, ‘how can the same faith produce two different kinds of people’, and I wanted to learn more.” 

Having a newfound desire to serve and learn, he went to an American Bible college in Switzerland to try it out for a year. One year turned to two, then two to three, suddenly he stood in front of his peers, friends and family as a graduate. Soon after commencement, he was called to be an associate pastor at a Chinese church in Quincy, Massachusetts.

“That’s a miracle in itself,” Lu said. “Usually a Chinese immigrant church in America would look for pastors in China, America, Taiwan or Hong Kong, but they don’t look for Chinese pastors in Europe, and I was the only Chinese student in the history of that school.”

Playing Soldier

During his second year as an associate pastor, he went to seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and ran into an Air Force Chaplain recruiter, who peaked his curiosity about becoming a military chaplain.

“I’ve always had an interest in the military,” Lu said. “As a child, I remember enjoying playing soldiers and things like that.”

Later, a friend introduced him to a U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, who talked to him about incarnational ministry, which gives people the opportunity to immerse themselves and provide ministry to troops wherever they are.  

“I thought to myself, troops are out there facing life and death on a daily basis,” Lu said. “In those kinds of situations, people tend to question life and its meaning; I wanted to help them and bring God’s presence to them.”

That impulse to help and serve led him to make the final decision to become a chaplain candidate.

Finding his calling

“Before coming on to active duty, I took a unit of clinical pastoral education,” Lu said. “When I did, we ran into the time of the Boston Marathon bombings.”

Lu had no prior experience dealing with trauma, but he was a chaplain candidate and was told to provide ministry to those affected by the bombings.

“They said I did a good job, but what I found out was that I was good at listening to people,” Lu said. “I don’t necessarily have all the answers, but I can listen to their hearts and provide comfort from God.”

Everything seemed to point him in one direction, but no decision in life comes uncontested.

“When I decided to go active duty in the Army, that’s when my fiancé broke up with me,” Lu said. “She felt like it was a risky move because of the stories about chaplains going to war and coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder that affected their marriage.”

Lu’s fiancé didn’t want to take the risk as a potentially newlywed couple, but Lu said he knew it was God’s calling for him to serve.

“The period I was a chaplain candidate I did internships at West Point and Fort Knox,” Lu said. “All my evaluations came out really good and that gave me confidence in this being God’s calling for me.” 

Lu experienced the reality that the church is not just a building, it’s a community. He enjoyed being able to camp out with the troops in the rain wearing a poncho, congregating in chow tents and helping them through their spiritual concerns. God was where they went; he wasn’t confined to a building.

“I also spoke to nearly 30 different individuals, from pastors to seminary students and professors, including an atheist I knew as a co-worker,” Lu said. “All of them told me the same thing; follow your dreams and your passion, because if you don’t, one day you’ll regret it.”

So, on to join the Army he went.

I am an American Airman

In the Army, he served his country, his God and his troops. For about half of his three years in the Army, Lu was away from home station, either deployed or in training.

During this time, Lu thought of how important his parents are to him and wanted to live close by in case they needed him.  He enjoyed being an Army chaplain, but ten years down the road, his parents would be in their 80’s. At that point, he knew they would need him closer -- in his heart he wanted to serve his family as well.

Getting close to his family wasn’t a feasible reality in the Army. However, his family lived near Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. He heard from friends that the Air Force often approved humanitarian reassignments, so in order to have that option in the future, he looked into making a move toward the Air Force.

After the 11-month process of leaving the Army and joining the Air Force, Lu got assigned to the JBLE Chaplain Corps, where his unit sees him as a unique asset to the Airmen they serve.

“Some chaplains’ life and ministry experiences might not be as deep as Chaplain Lu’s. He brings a multicultural experience -- he’s kind of the full package and has been a blessing for our staff,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Brian McCormack 633rd ABW. “He’s the kind of person who will listen to people, look at the situation, and then think of what can we do to help this person or unit. Those are the people we want in the chaplaincy. You couldn’t ask for a more dedicated person.”

As for Lu’s future, he is excited to serve the members of the 633rd ABW, his family and his God.