By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJuly 23, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Whether he's saying the prayer at a gathering of military families or talking about God on a Decatur-based Christian country radio station, chaplain James Henderson always has one mission in mind - to share God's love.
"That's what the Bible teaches us - to love, first, God, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves," Henderson said. "I will go where God leads me. I will do the work He wants me to do."
With his wife Carol very much a partner in his ministry, Henderson has focused on ways to bring God and His word to the down-and-out of society. Since retiring as a colonel in 1985, this Morgan County native has lived his mission, volunteering to provide groceries to people in need, ministering to men and women in prison, providing bicycles to needy children at Christmas time, assisting in the operation of a home for pregnant and troubled young women, and convincing young pregnant women to choose life for their unborn babies.
Most recently, the couple has spearheaded efforts to put a Christian country radio station on the air and to develop a Christian oriented television station, all in an effort to spread God's message of love throughout North Alabama. And, in the midst of his work, Henderson also is the chaplain of the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, conducting invocations for several local patriotic events, including the Veterans Day Parade and deployment ceremonies for local National Guard and Army Reserve units.
The Henderson couple was recognized July 4 for their ministry at the Spirit of America Festival in Decatur, where they were the recipients of the Humanitarian Award. Other Spirit of America award recipients with ties to Redstone Arsenal were Honor Flight Tennessee Valley president Joe Fitzgerald, who received the Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award, and renowned author and former NASA employee Homer Hickam, who received the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award.
"It was a great honor to receive the award. We never expected we would get something like this for doing what we were called to do anyway," Henderson said.
"What is the proper response to God's grace for us who are unworthy of the grace of God' The proper response is to love him. Then, the next step is a desire to be obedient. Jesus said to love God and to love our fellow man. If you seek a closer relationship with God, then you are led to do your best to demonstrate your love for others in tangible ways, and tangible ways are about helping other people. You show the gospel through helping others."
Although the couple have been in the ministry together since their marriage in 1993 and have been associated with several different outreach programs through their all-volunteer Emmanuel Ministries, neither one is even close to retiring from the mission God has given them.
"We're waiting on what the Lord may want us to do," said Henderson, who grew up Baptist and is now ordained as a minister in the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
This Vietnam veteran and Bronze Star recipient joined the Army as a field artillery and ordnance missile maintenance officer in 1964, following graduation from the University of North Alabama and summer jobs at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency laboratory, where he worked on future missile systems, including TOW, Dragon and Javelin.
He was the commander of the 588th Transportation Company in Vietnam in 1968, and went on to complete a 21-year Army career that included serving as an assistant project manager for the TOW missile system, program manager for the Joint Theater Missile Defense Program and staff officer for the Missile Intelligence Agency, all at Redstone, as well as commander of the Pershing Missile Depot at Pueblo, Colo. His last assignment was as the deputy director of the Missile and Space Intelligence Center at Redstone.
"I retired in 1987, and we had a few stable years in Morgan County. Then, my wife died," said Henderson, who raised two children with his first wife.
"I had done well in the Army and made it to colonel. But my life was empty. I realized I needed to get right with the Lord. At the same time, I held resentment against the drunk driver who killed my mother. As soon as I worked out forgiving him, all these doors started to open. It was a miraculous series of events."
Working for a local defense contractor, Henderson was active in the Assembly of God Church, where he was a deacon. He began a jail and prison ministry at the Huntsville City Jail and the Limestone Correctional Facility, where he baptized 300 inmates.
"I know that being in jail puts so much pressure on inmates that a lot are truly repentive to God. I've heard about jailhouse religion. But I saw some real transformations. I saw the lives of men and women really changed," he said.
In 1993, he met his second wife, Carol, who had a liturgical background as a Lutheran.
"Together, we were unquestionably, miraculously led into the charismatic Episcopal church," Henderson said. "For us, this was a union of the charismatic and liturgical sides of the church.
She was an upper middle class Madison County mortgage banker and I was a Pentecostal street preacher. With our courtship and marriage, the liturgical world and the charismatic, spirit-filled world came together."
Their multiple ministries together began when Carol joined Henderson in the prison ministry. The two ministered to inmates at the Limestone Correctional Facility as well as helped to organize an effort to involve prisoners in refurbishing used bicycles. During five Christmas seasons, the program repaired and distributed nearly 1,000 bikes to needy children through local charities.
In 1996, the couple started a food ministry in Decatur and later expanded it to Athens and Huntsville. The couple managed to deliver 100,000 pounds of groceries a year to the needy during their 10 years in the ministry. In 1999, Carol Henderson spent two years managing Rose of Sharon, a home in Morgan County for pregnant and troubled young women. Since 2004, Henderson has been the chaplain for the AUSA chapter.
"When you are involved in the ministry for the Lord, it's an adventure, and it's amazing what God can do and how he provides," Carol Henderson said. "There's an excitement and an adventure in the ministry. We are so in awe of what God can do. I like reaching out to people with God's love and so does my husband. This is a great love that we want to share."
About a year ago, the couple - having moved on from the prison, food and women's ministries - focused on launching a Decatur-based radio station that is "a positive country station with some country Christian songs mixed in and hymns on Sundays," Henderson said.
"This is another ministry that came to us in a miraculous way. We've always thought radio is a neat way to multiply our effectiveness in communicating the gospel. We've worked hard to sustain it, develop it, grow it and use it as best we can to support missions."
The couple also own a cable television station in Decatur that offers "God and country television for the Tennessee Valley." They are working to add new local programming to the TV station.
For the Henderson couple, showing God's love to others also builds their bond to each other.
"God has yoked me with a great partner to do these ministries," Henderson said. "These days we are focused on three ministries -- working in the patriotic community, working with the radio and television stations to spread God's message and working in the pro-life sidewalk ministry.
"Ours has been a journey of two imperfect people who have found the grace of God through Jesus Christ and our desire to serve him in any way we can. I never thought it would go this way - to be a priest and to be blessed with a beautiful wife to help me. These are miraculous things."