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The Greatest Nation: As told by Pastor Max Furman

I was deeply moved when a member of my youth fellowship from thirty plus years ago contacted me and asked if I would be willing to officiate at her father’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. In the months that followed, her mother also passed away. Those funerals took place last Friday. It was an honor to assist in the laying to rest of this Korean and Vietnam war veteran along with his wife. The service in the chapel, the processional walk to the grave, the playing of the band, the caisson and horses, the honor guard all combined for solemn dignity. The man and his wife deserved and received our admiration and respect.

Later in the day, my wife and I again found ourselves back at Arlington. The late afternoon sun was shining brightly as we left behind the visitor’s center and began to climb up the hill towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was pleasantly warm with a slight breeze making it a perfect time to walk a portion of those hallowed grounds. We paused periodically to look at specific headstones or to watch the squirrels scamper about. There was a touch of fall as leaves swirled and danced across the well-manicured grounds.

Finally reaching the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it was moving to watch veterans unload from a non-profit sponsored bus trip. I was touched by the caring of those helping the veterans, some able to walk on their own, others needing assistance, and some in wheelchairs. Their faces spoke volumes.

With no buses at the visitor’s center, the number of people around the tomb was not what I normally expected. Even the trams had few people on them. Kathy and I made our way to a bench that was in some shade. It was near the tram stop. We had only been there a few minutes when the man working the tram stop came over. Underneath his bench was a cooler bag with his water. He looked hot in his uniform. As we began a conversation, my wife asked, “Have you worked here long?” His response surprised me, “I don’t work here.” With his foreign accent, I wondered if perhaps he did not understand my wife’s question.

As I tried to grasp the meaning of his response, he asked if I was a service member. After affirming I was a veteran, he asked my wife and me to stand. He then began to enlighten me. He shared how he wanted to give back to this country, and he felt an appropriate way was to serve at Arlington. He told how he had received an education in this nation, then worked for his embassy in this country, and following that worked additional years in the United States. He stated, “I don’t need the money. This is the greatest nation as it provides security in the world.” As he glanced around and waved at the white headstones that surrounded us, he continued, “these men and women have made all this possible. Before I return to my native home, I wanted to give something back for what I received. I wanted to say thank you.”

To say I was touched, to say I was moved is not enough. In this era, when many us of struggle as to what is a just and loving answer for the immigration situation, this man reminded me of a great need to find that answer. He reminded me of all that is good about our nation.

Pastor Max Furman began his pastoral service in July of 1979 and is currently acting as Pastor to the Antes Fort and Oriole United Methodist Churches. He is also a veteran of the Pennsylvania National Guard and National Guard Bureau where he served as Chaplain beginning in 1992 and 2016, respectively. His service has taken him to Bosnia and Iraq, and he served in the Hurricane Katrina Response in 2005. Pastor Furman has recently retired as a Major, and we thank him for his service.

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