Anton Topilnyckyj, the Halifax-based prayer coordinator of the Military Christian Fellowship of Canada, sees the number of people seeking spiritual help keep growing.
Yet Topilnyckyj, who himself served 25 years in the military and still serves in a civilian capacity, is not surprised that more people like her "are really looking and seeking."
"In the last 10 years, our whole Armed Forces has been in more conflict than we have in a long time," he says, referring to Canada's 10-year military deployment in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of 158 soldiers and added more than 4,000 veterans to the disability benefits roster. "When we face adversity, all of a sudden God seems a little bit closer."
Topilnyckyj has been a member of the fellowship almost since it began in the late 1970s when a corporal in Ottawa began mailing out lists of prayer requests to Christians in the military serving overseas.
The MCF was formally organized in 1989 with its own constitution, an executive, and a board made up of very senior retired officers. It now has 225 signed-up members from many denominations and every military rank.
"I don't think we did a very good job of letting ourselves be known as to who we are," says Topilnyckyj. "At one point we became just a club. We've been more aggressive lately promoting prayer and fellowship, and encouraging people to go to a church."
That outreach includes raising the MCF's profile in legions across the country, asking churches located near military bases to consider partnering with them to host perhaps a prayer group for people on the base, and exploring new ways to come alongside military chaplains.
"There's a bit of a restriction on what they're allowed to talk about outside a chapel service, whereas we have the freedom to express our faith absolutely," says Topilnyckyj. "I know many of the chaplains appreciate that."
The MCF is also partnering with non-military Christian organizations. At last year's Grey Cup, it bought 100 tickets to a pre-game prayer breakfast with some of the players hosted by Athletes in Action. These were handed out to veterans and their families.
"I think some people didn't realize that they had other Christian brothers and sisters out there. I'm always amazed when I run into people on the base where I'm working now, and they recognize my name from an e-mail," says Topilnyckyj.
"Basically we're growing. We're not just a bunch of guys hanging out and praying—which was not a bad thing."