ABOARD USS KEARSARGE --
It's a quiet September evening aboard USS Kearsarge. The sky is dull, the water blue, and the sea is calm. The chapel is found deep within the ship, through a maze of corridors, down tunneling stairwells. Hidden here, Marines and sailors of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Praise and Worship Team drive soul into the heart of the warship.
Reaching the final descent, the rhythm of Cpl. Keith C. Baker's guitar pulsates through the door, leading a cadence of 20 voices. Baker, a sailor and a fellow Marine lead the Saturday Contemporary Christian Service in songs of praise.
"I like music and coming here makes me feel better about my life,"said Baker, a data network administrator with the MEU's Command Element. "It's all about worshiping God and fellowship with other Christians."
Baker, a Clifton, Texas, native, has played the guitar for friends since his junior year of high school, he said. Now married, his main audience is his infant daughter who watches with fascination, peeking from his wife's arms, as he plays.
"Kaitlyn's only eight months old, but she still likes it when I play for her,"said Baker.
Supported by the rhythm from Baker's deft fingers, Petty Officer 2nd Class Anna Nichols'voice resonated within the riveted walls. Nichols, a cryptologic collection technician here, has been singing in church choirs since the fifth grade, she said. Serving as one-third of this "blue-green" team, Nichols understands the mess that differing schedules create.
"There are so many schedules,"said Nichols. "We have people who work in the mess hall, others who work on planes, and I work 12-hour shifts. Sometimes, making it to church can be tough."
The group has overcome scheduling conflicts from the beginning, said Cpl. Daniel A. Sanabria-Morales, the Praise and Worship Team leader.
"During COMPTUEX, (a May pre-deployment shipboard exercise) I felt I wanted a little more variety in the services, so I approached the chaplain and asked,'Sir, I know you're busy so is there any way that I can come and help you with the service?' It was like an answer to his prayers because he definitely wanted something like this to happen. We have been working on this project since then, and it is finally coming together."
Sanabria, a supply admin clerk by trade, has since worked with the MEU's Religious Ministry Team in his spare time to learn how to lead a contemporary Christian service in songs of worship.
"I have never done anything like this before,"said Sanabria, "I have no musical inclination whatsoever, so most of the time I'm learning from the others."
"My personal singing aside, this is a good thing because we can reach people's hearts and minds better with music than preaching, and it's about reaching people for Christ,"said Sanabria, a Piscataway, N.J., native.
In addition to preparing the slide shows and music for the services, Sanabria actively recruits musicians and participants for the services.
"To be part of the team, you don't have to be a musician; I myself am obviously not a musician,"said Sanabria. "However, if you have a love for the Lord, and this is something that appeals to you, we can always find a spot for you here."
Religious Ministry Team leader and 22nd MEU(SOC) Chaplain, Navy Cmdr. Bill Appleton, also highly encourages participation in the services. According to Appleton, music frees the heart to express the deepest passions of love.
"I witness weekly the effects of inspiring Christian music upon the souls of young and old alike,"said Appleton. "It's a love ballad that celebrates the relationship between Christ and his bride: the Church."
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism. It consists of its Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and Command Element. To learn more about the 22nd MEU(SOC), visit the unit's Web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.