By Stephen Leonard
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
When you enter a war zone as a combatant, you are most worried about the obvious lethality of your enemies’ weapons. You can be killed by bullets, grenades, mortars, or artillery. Then there are the numerous booby-traps: man-made, mines, rigged artillery shells or grenades or any other type of explosive. You are never, nor were we, ever worried about toxic agents made by our own side. Most of us knew absolutely nothing about any of them. We did not know that some of us lived in the midst of such poison.
Agent Orange was one of the most toxic of these chemical agents used to defoliate the quick-growing jungle. When you removed some of the jungle, it very quickly would rejuvenate itself, if left unaffected. The US Army quickly realized that it could not operate some of its most powerful weapons in the jungle environment. Tanks and armored personnel carriers with powerful guns mounted on them could not be at all mobile in the jungle environment.
Army engineers would be able to clear large swaths in the jungle with their heavy-duty machines and dynamite. However, the jungle would quickly grow back. Hence a poisonous toxic agent was needed to be regularly sprayed on the defoliated ground to keep the jungle from growing back.
After the Army cleared tens of miles long and a hundred-yard-wide swaths they called “jungle breaks,” they sent numerous planes, C-130’s, aloft with Agent Orange sprayers attached to the wings to fly low over these “jungle breaks” to saturate the ground and hold the jungle back.
Being assigned to an Army Mechanized Infantry Unit, I ended up living in these “jungle breaks” for weeks at a time. We never knew a toxic agent, which was never tested on human beings, was being saturated on the ground and foliage in which we lived and operated. We shaved from the mud puddles in those jungle breaks, scooped clear water just after a rain into our canteen cups for cooking c-rations, and in several instances, ended up gagging on gas clouds into which we inadvertently drove when on patrol.
Those gas clouds were created from dropped and then split open 55-gallon drums from the C-130’s, after the Air Force crews decided to return to base, not desiring to return with any full drums aboard. We could never find and put on our gas masks until we had gulped down a lot of the toxic fumes. Thus, I was as saturated as the ground was with Agent Orange multiple times.
After Vietnam, but still, on Active Duty, I experience a heart attack and three-way bypass surgery on my heart. No one else in my family has ever had a heart attack. Since retirement, I have had two other heart attacks requiring stents and one stroke. The VA has determined that I am a victim of Agent Orange.
I say all this, because October is Agent Orange Awareness Month. I imagine you did not know that. Still, it has caused a likely shortening of my life span, and numerous health maladies. Toxicities that we may be exposed to can do their harm to our health and our lives.
Only some of us are exposed to chemicals and other toxic agents, but all of us are exposed to the enemy toxicity of Ephesians 6. We do not wrestle against only flesh and blood enemies, but unseen enemies of another reality of which we are not always aware. And they work their toxicities upon us, some of which turn out to be fatal.
We are not left in a quandary against these spiritual forces, which literally all of us face. Ephesians 6 provides the antidote, which is the Armor of God. We must pay particular attention to each piece of this armor to put on. We cannot be lackadaisical about it. Laziness leads to death. But faith leads to spiritual activity. It leads to wearing the armor God provides. It leads to standing up to Satan and his demons. It leads us to victory in both realms: physical and spiritual!
“Stand then in his great might, with all his strength endued; but take, to arm you for the fight, the panoply of God. Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul; take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole.”
(2nd verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” 1749)