Essex pastor shares how wartime experiences brought him to God

Filed under: In Our Community |

by Adam Gault

Grace Baptist of Essex held a special breakfast event on Saturday, February 24 with a presentation from Pastor Richard Valade about his experiences in the United States Marine Corps and subsequent deployment to Vietnam.

The presentation, entitled “From Hate to Love: Reflections on Faith and the Vietnam War,” kept the near full church rapt with attention as Valade explained how his experiences in the war led him to a life of faith and service, and changed his heart from one of hate to one of love.

“All through training, they were preparing us to go to Vietnam, and part of that training was to kill the enemy,” Valade explained. “By the time I got to Vietnam, I hated the enemy. It was after I’d come back home, God did real work in my heart. Hating the Vietnamese wasn’t a part of the work God did. God just changed my heart, and took that hatred away.”

After he returned from Vietnam, Valade worked at Ford in Dearborn, where he said he experienced a spiritual awakening that led him to become a pastor.

“Several of us nominal Christians, the Lord just worked in our hearts, brought us to a stronger faith in Christ,” Valade explained. “The reality of Christ really gripped me, and when that happened, I very much wanted to do something for him.”

Since 1979, Valade has led the congregation that calls Grace Baptist of Essex home. This was the first event where Valade spoke at length about his experiences in Vietnam, feeling that the time was now right to share his story in depth.

“There’s several people in the church that had been interested in this, and over the years had wanted to hear about it. So, we thought, let’s do it,” Valade explained.

From his time at Marine boot camp, to assignment to an anti-tank division, Valade took the audience on a harrowing journey of his time in the Marines, all the way from dealing with rat infested bunkers, to the Battle of Khe Sanh in a presentation that was punctuated with video footage and incredible photographs from Valade’s personal collection that highlighted a tumultuous time of the 20th century.

“When I look at my life back then, that’s really questionable if I was truly trusting in Christ,” Valade explained of his personal faith during his time in the service. “Make sure you know what your standing is with God, because whether you’re in a war zone, or you’re just here, one day we’re going to stand before God, and you have to know that you’ve been reconciled to God.”