Justin Sampler is a husband, father, pastor and chaplain for the United States Army National Guard. However, for the past six months, the title “chaplain” in the Army National Guard meant he would be deployed to the European country Ukraine.
Sampler accepted the call to ministry at Falls Creek when he was 15 years old, like many before and after him have done. He planned to attend seminary to
become a pastor and fulfill the calling he accepted as a teenager but wasn’t sure how he would pay for it. That’s where the National Guard came into Sampler’s story.
It was then that people in Sampler’s life began to suggest he become a chaplain for the National Guard. He finished seminary and was able to serve full-time in the ministry and part-time in the National Guard. Sampler spent two years at a Hollis, First before becoming pastor at his current church, Inola, First.
All the while, Sampler was fulfilling his duty in the National Guard which consisted of two days per month and two weeks out of every summer for training. He had been mobilized before as a chaplain but never internationally, that is until six months ago.
“I specifically serve as a chaplain, which means I am a spiritual leader and influence to American Soldiers,” Sampler said. “In Ukraine, I served on a Joint Multinational Training Group that trained Ukrainian soldiers and those who train them, as they fight Russian separatists who are in a war I didn’t even know about before deploying.”
Sampler was also able to be a spiritual leader to British, Canadian and Lithuanian soldiers during his deployment.
Shortly after he deployed, Sampler’s wife Jessica called him with news. She was expecting their sixth child. He was ecstatic to add another blessing from God to their family of children that ranged in age from seven-years-old to nearly two-years-old.
Meanwhile, Sampler said he spent his time praying over soldiers. “As chaplain, I prayed for people every day,” he said. “People would come to me and spill their problems to me, and I would pray for them. But really, toward the end of deployment, I realized that no one had come to me and prayed for me.”
That is until Senator James Lankford visited and recognized Sampler as an Oklahoma Baptist pastor. He prayed for Sampler and gave him a hug. “I told (Lankford) you’re the first person for months that has prayed for me in person,” Sampler said, reflecting on how thankful he was for Lankford’s prayer.
He felt support from his church family whoprayed for him, sent care packages, letters and emails, as well as stepped in back home and fulfilled duties he couldn’t at the time like attending his son’s t-ball games and mowing the lawn. Women from the church even cooked meals and babysat for his wife and family, all things Sampler expressed great gratitude toward.
Then the time came for Sampler to come home. He and Jessica told the children he would be home before Christmas but didn’t want to give a specific date in case orders changed with the Army. So Sampler surprised his children in what was a joyous homecoming on Dec. 9 at their home in Inola.
Days later, Sampler resumed pastoral duty and duty as a Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma board member, participating in voting for Hance Dilbeck as the executive director-treasurer, fulfilling the role following Anthony Jordan’s retirement in 2018. Sampler is most looking forward to spending time with his family until he begins preaching from the pulpit at the beginning of the year.
Sampler said, “I’m very excited to get back to my church and to see them. I love to preach, so I’m excited about that, but honestly the next few weeks, I’m just really excited to be with my family, not have any responsibilities other than to just be with them. I’ve missed them a lot.”
As Sampler resumes his life as a husband, father and pastor, he says there are many things that churches can do to support soldiers while they are deployed. Members of Inola, First raised more than $4,000 in gift cards to give to soldiers, so they could buy themselves things like gloves and other items that are often taken for granted.