Ph.D. Student Receives Distinguished Service Award
By Brett Wilson | June 7, 2013
Juliana Lesher receives the Distinguished Service Award for her work as Chief of Chaplain Service at the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System.
"I knew at four years old that I was called to ministry," said Regent University School of Business & Leadership Ph.D. student, Juliana Lesher. "I felt that there was nothing else that I could do than to just humbly seek to be a representative of Christ to a world that is hurting."
In April, Lesher received the Distinguished Service Award from the Military Chaplains Association. As Chief of the Chaplain Service for the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System, Lesher oversees the spiritual well-being of more than 95,000 veterans in 63 counties throughout the state of Texas.
Since 2011, Lesher has taken part in writing a 400-page manual that enabled her Veterans Affairs Chaplain service to be the first to be granted accreditation by the COMISS Commission for Accreditation of Pastoral Services (CCAPS) and the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE).
But, Lesher's journey of becoming a distinguished Chief of Chaplain Service has not been easy. In fact, according to Lesher, her life has been a collection of "firsts."
"There was a time that I felt like a damaged freight, like I was unusable," said Lesher. "But when God has a call in your life and you walk in obedience, He can do immeasurably more."
During her pursuits of theological education, Lesher became the first female accepted into the M.Div. program at Evangelical Theological Seminary—with the clear impression that as a female, serving within this particular denomination would allow her to do little more than teach Sunday school to children.
"Of course people [at seminary] would say, 'Well, we've decided we can educate you at the school here, but there won't be opportunities for you to minister within the church,'" said Lesher. "But I figured God was in control."
Lesher's conviction to serve in a ministry was still strong, and her hope was restored when a United States Navy chaplain recruiter visited her seminary. However, Lesher has a health condition—congenital scoliosis—that required a complete spinal fusion, resulting in a steel rod running from her neck to her tailbone.
"[The recruiter] said, 'I'm telling you, Ms. Lesher, you will never, never serve in the United States Army, Air Force or Navy; the answer is no.'"
But, the recruiter continued, encouraging Lesher to pursue her calling further, because one day there would be a door that "God would open, and no man could ever shut." Lesher found that door by way of serving as a chaplain for veterans.
Lesher explained that she believes there is a sense of feeling rejected or abandoned in the heart of every human. And though she is not a veteran herself, she is able to use the pain she experienced in her own life in order to help others.
"My favorite part about what I do is hearing people's stories and walking them through difficult times," said Lesher. "It truly is an honor—a sacred honor to be a chaplain, and to represent God in a federal institution."
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