A giant step for a man who walked on the moon

A giant step for a man who walked on the moon

Photo by Alan M. Dumoff, more photos ccdphotolibrary.smugmug.com

astonaut-webRetired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General and astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr., speaks at St. Philip Hall of St. Thomas Church during the Brigantine Community Prayer Breakfast on Oct. 6.

BRIGANTINE — For one of the few people in history to have entered into the endless expanse of outer space, it took contact with a small community of believers to awaken him to the infinite treasures of faith in God.

This was perhaps the most poignant message from retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General and astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr., delivered at St. Philip Hall of St. Thomas Church during the Brigantine Community Prayer Breakfast on Oct. 6.

Gen. Duke was a lunar module pilot for Apollo 16 and became the youngest man ever to walk the surface of the moon. Now 40 years after that mission, Gen. Duke still describes with awe and wonderment the experience of seeing the vision of earth from such a distance that it appeared as nothing but blue and green and white and brown, as if it were entirely uninhabited. He spoke with glee as he recounted hopping along the surface of the moon, weightless, hooting and hollering like a child on the playground.

Yet for all of this, his lunar voyage was never a spiritual experience for him.

Gen. Duke said that while he believed in God and went to church, at that time in his life he was distant from God. This distance, he said, was at the root of what was becoming a troubled marriage and family life. He was a “churchian” rather than a Christian. He looked great in church on Sunday, he said, but he was failing as a husband and a father, in particular struggling with an explosive temper.

After he retired from NASA, the biggest challenge Gen. Duke faced was discovering ways to meet his drive for adventure and accomplishment — no easy task when he had already accomplished something done by only 11 other people in the history of man. So he went into business, and as in his military and his NASA careers, he was successful. This success and the material riches that came along with it, however, did not satiate his appetite.

His wife had her own struggles, with depression and even suicidal thoughts. Gen. Duke remarked that as an engineer, he could fix a broken washing machine, but he couldn’t fix a broken wife who felt dead inside.

It was then that a group came to his home church, St. John’s in La Porte, Tex., and shared their faith and their personal stories and their love of Christ. Without saying anything to her husband, Gen. Duke’s wife, Dottie, recognized their peace and at that moment decided truly to commit her life to Christ. With a renewed faith, her sadness began to dissipate and her despair was transformed into joy.

It was still some time before Gen. Duke’s own faith would awaken. His focus remained on his business and on financial gain, which continued to leave him empty inside. Several years after his wife’s transformation, after moving just outside of San Antonio, his doctor invited him to a weekend-long Scripture study at the local tennis club.

He resisted at first but ultimately agreed to join. It was during that weekend, studying the Bible with a small gathering of men, that his own heart awakened to the power of God’s Word.

From that point onward Gen. Duke began to devote himself to prayer and the study of Scripture, and he described  the changes in his life, including being able to control his explosive temper. He reconciled with his family and now enjoys a close and loving relationship with his wife and his children. He remains committed to his faith and spends much of his time now traveling the country, sharing his story and how faith alone was able to bring him the peace that he sought for so long.

The breakfast was an ecumenical gathering. The pastor of St. Thomas, Father William Vandergrift, attended, along with Pastor David McGettigan of St. Andrew’s Community Lutheran Church and Rev. John Scotland of Community Presbyterian Church. The breakfast was provided by the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters of America.

Andrew Solari, the master of ceremonies, concluded the event with a presentation and appeal for Water for Uganda, a non-profit established to provide potable water in the home village of St. Thomas’ parochial vicar, Father Alfred Mungujakisa. In Father  Mungujakisa’s village, one single water supply is used for bathing, cooking, feeding animals and cleaning. The average life expectancy is 44 years old. Anyone interested in making a monetary donation to help complete this project can call Andy Solari at 609-264-1040.

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