About the Guest
Army Chaplain Darren Turner and his wife, Heather, join producer David Evans and his wife, Esther, to talk about the release of the new feature film about the Turner’s life, “Indivisible.”
Bob: In his first deployment as a US Army chaplain, Darren Turner realized very quickly that being on the front line was disorienting for soldiers.
Darren: We were probably 20/25 minutes south of Baghdad. The nickname of the base was Mortaritaville—we had mortars frequently. Some days there would be six or eight mortars that would just fly over. Some would hit on the base; usually, they hit in areas where nobody was. It was a huge base, so a lot more dirt than there are tents. But within 48 hours [of his arrival] there was a mortar that came in and I thought, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 25th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk to Darren and Heather Turner today about how living a life on deployment under fire can take its toll on a marriage relationship. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You have your tickets for the weekend? Do you know which show?—you’re going Friday?—going Saturday?
Dennis: You know,I had the privilege of seeing a screener, Bob.
Bob: So you’re not going—you still have to go to the theater! This is a matter of integrity. This is your patriotic duty to go out this weekend or, at least, just buy your tickets online whether you go or not. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, the movie that Bob’s talking about is Indivisible. It is a great movie about a couple that we’re talking to today, along with the couple who produced that movie—actually co-wrote it and produced it. The Turners and the Evans join us on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome to the broadcast.
Darren: Great to be here.
Heather: Thank you for having us.
Darren: Thank you so much.
Dennis: Sorry, ladies—I referred to you as guys. [Laughter]
Esther: That’s okay.
Dennis: Well, David and Ester Evans live in Memphis, where David is part-time an optometrist—fulltime—
David: —fulltime, really, yes.
Dennis: Well, I was teasing you at that point. [Laughter]
David: Okay; right.
Dennis: You’re a movie producer now.
David: Yes; that’s our new calling—at least for the last ten years or so.
Dennis: He gives leadership to Graceworks Pictures and is the co-writer of Indivisible. They have been married since 2001 and have three sons. Darren and Heather Turner are the featured couple of this movie.
Bob: Yes; this is your story on the big screen.
Darren: This is crazy! [Laughter]
Bob: Was this weird?—watching a couple of Hollywood actors?
Darren: Yes; it really was.
Darren: It’s surreal!
Bob: Did you find yourself going, “No; that conversation didn’t actually happen that way”? [Laughter]
Darren: Yes; a couple of times, but we knew that was coming.
Dennis: Our guests here—I want to ask you—I’ll tell our listeners what you do in a second—but did you think the guy who played you was—
Bob: —was he buff enough?
Dennis: —properly muscled up enough to represent you?
Darren: He made me look a lot better than I actually am. [Laughter]
Dennis: I wasn’t going to say that. [Laughter]
Darren: No; he looked every bit the part of a good military officer—that’s for sure.
Dennis: He sure does. Darren and Heather have been married since 1999. They have three children as well. Darren serves as a military chaplain in the Army, and you’ve done that now for—
Darren: Yes; almost 12 years—over halfway if I’m going to make it a career, which I hope can happen.
Dennis: So I want to ask either one of you: “Did you have any idea that, when you started your relationship out—after you’d both been at the University of Georgia; you actually graduated from there—you came the University of Georgia to recruit students—did either one of you think you’d ever end up in the military?”
Heather: It never occurred to me—never at all. We actually had thought that, early on in our marriage, that—we just assumed that we would go back into the mission field, overseas.
Darren: Yes; we were doing campus ministry for a few years. After we had had a couple of kids, Heather had known someone who had married a military member. We started talking to them. It seemed like a great fit the more we started learning about it—
—particularly the chaplaincy—so we began to pursue it.
Bob: Why a great fit? Talk a little bit about chaplaincy—and why that’s different from being a pastor at a church or doing campus ministry and why you said, “I think this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Darren: My father was in the National Guard; but that was before I was born, so I didn’t really come from a strong multi-generational military family, per se. I didn’t know much about it.
Once we started learning about just the military culture—how close knit that community is—it sounded like something that we both were very interested in—thinking, initially, maybe the mission field was where we were going to go to get that close community—places we could live, and have kids together with folks, and just live life together. That turned out to be true in the military as well. That was attractive to us.
Dennis: Well, you definitely went to the mission field—
Dennis: —I mean, very quickly after you signed up with the Army.
Dennis: How long before you were deployed as a chaplain?
Darren: I signed in on active duty on February 1st of 2007, and I deployed for 15 months in May of 2007—just over three months. I couldn’t even spell lieutenant—it was brand-new. [Laughter]
Dennis: It had to be surreal for you to have been on a college campus and now to find yourself in a foreign country. Where did you serve?
Darren: We went to Iraq, south of Bagdad, Iraq. In the middle of the surge—if you recall, back in 2007—that was when President Bush announced the surge, which meant he was going to push folks from these super bases out into the neighborhoods around Iraq to prevent the looming civil war that we thought might be happening. My brigade and battalion was the last group that went over as part of the surge.
Bob: Darren, I think about military chaplains and I think: “domestic bases, and chapel on the base, and you’re doing the worship service and the Bible study, and you’re doing funerals if those need to happen.” Its’ kind of like you’re helping with the spiritual life of people in this country, who are waiting to go overseas. I don’t know that I’d ever even stopped to think, until I watched the movie, that there are chaplains in forward areas. Watching the movie share your story brought to light just how strategic a chaplain is in a battlefield.
Darren: Yes; we go where the troops are. Wherever the troops are, you’re going to find a chaplain—maybe not every single day at every single location—but we rotate around. Wherever the sheep are, the shepherd needs to go; or the sheep are not cared for.
Bob: —without a shepherd; yes.
Dennis: Heather, how ready was your marriage for deployment? The way it’s portrayed in the movie, you guys were kind of cocky—your marriage was strong, and you were doing quite well.
Heather: Yes; I think if you had asked me then—like in Invisible—I would say: “Yes; we’re absolutely ready for this. We’ve prayed and prepared for this. This is our thing.” I didn’t join Darren after he was in the military. This is something that we prayed about together—that we went into, as a team, to minister to people in the military. We were right where we thought we were prepared to be.
Dennis: You were on assignment
Heather: Right; we had been sent, and we were ready to go.
Bob: We ought to say here, Heather, a lot of people lose sight of the fact that military wives are on assignment even if they’re not deployed.
Bob: I mean, the sacrifice for you / the challenge for you—you’re a single parent mom with—were there three kids at the time?
Bob: You’re trying to manage every aspect of life. You are sacrificially serving your family with your husband gone. I think that gets lost in our thinking about military couples today.
Heather: I agree.
Dennis: Darren, I want to just ask you—you arrived at this base in Iraq: “How long before you realized you were no longer in Kansas?” [Laughter]
Darren: Immediately. The location we were at in Iraq was, as I mentioned, was in the southern part—probably we’re 20/25 minutes south of Baghdad. The nickname of the base was Mortaritaville—we had mortars frequently. Some days there would be six or eight mortars that would just fly over. Some would hit on the base; usually, they hit in areas where nobody was. It was a huge base so a lot more dirt than there are people or tents. But within 24-48 hours [of his arrival] there was a mortar that came in; and I thought, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.”
Dennis: When did it start to test your faith in terms of—where you were facing war at a level you never anticipated?
Darren: We had been there probably no more than a couple of months before we were ready to go out in sector—so to speak. There was some training that kind of led up to that. We were taking over an area that another group had basically released over to us as they prepared to go home. As our guys started pushing out into the areas, it wasn’t long before we started taking casualties. That summer/fall of 2007 was really rough—we lost a lot of guys. [Silence] Sorry [full of emotion].
Dennis: No; it’s okay.
Darren: I thought I was prepared for that, but I don’t think I was. I don’t think you can be prepared for that. I’ve described it to some people as trying to describe the color red to a blind person. You cannot physically do that until you get to see that color.
Dennis: There was a scene in the movie, Indivisible, where you were called out of your tent to meet some people who were coming back. I don’t know—was it this battle that you are speaking of? They were coming back from trying to get occupation of that area again—where they came back with both the injured soldiers but, also, some of the civilians who had been injured as well.
Darren: That happened multiple times. There were a lot of IEDs—which are improvised explosive devices—roadside bombs, as sometimes we would refer to them as. They were indiscriminate of who they would hit. Sometimes, they were just pressure plate bombs; so whoever drove over it next would get blown up—sometimes that was service members; sometimes it was local Iraqis.
When that would happen to locals, they would come to US bases because that’s the best medical care at the time anywhere close by. They would come and ask us to help them. That was not just that one occasion; although there were a couple of times, where children did come to the base.
Bob: Did you sense your faith eroding in the middle of your deployment?
Darren: I didn’t sense my faith eroding. I didn’t nurture my faith—what I mean by that was—it wasn’t a conscious, “Oh, no, I’m losing faith in God.” I got so busy; and then, when I wasn’t busy, I would just want to chill and relax. I didn’t feed my soul as I should have on that deployment. I had some buddies, who were chaplains. We would get together on Sunday nights and watch some really corny, stupid movies—and smoke cigars and just have a good time. Looking back, we really neglected to really take care of our own hearts together.
Bob: Almost like, “We just need some time to anesthetize—to pull out.”
Bob: I understand that escape; but if that’s what you’re doing—and you’re not building into yourself, spiritually—you walk right back out into the real world and you get hit again; don’t you?
Darren: And on one of those nights, I remember vividly one of our buddies—somebody knocked on the door and said: “Sir, come. We’ve got an issue.” He had to leave—he was gone for a couple of days, because he’d had some casualties that night. It was a very busy time—not just in Iraq—Afghanistan—if you recall. We had a two-front war going, and they were both blazing hot at the same time. There was a lot of busyness in the military.
Dennis: Darren, I appreciate you being honest about how you didn’t feed your soul. I know we’re talking about military marriages and families—and what war does to them here and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome—but we’re also talking about people who are doing life and are in a battle of their own.
Darren: Yes; absolutely.
Dennis: The very description you gave of yourself could also describe a lot of our listeners, who are just doing life. They pull out on the battle and they chill.
Dennis: They unplug, and they’re not feeding their soul; so they’re not really ready for the storms, for the floods, for the winds that will blow against your house and your home and potentially destroy it. I just want to encourage our listeners: “Listen carefully to this story this week, because this story and the movie are going to challenge you to pull back and evaluate your readiness for battle—
Darren: Yes; yes.
Dennis: —“in your marriage and your family.”
Bob: Heather, as you were talking with Darren over the 15 months of deployment—the times when you could connect—could you sense something’s happening to him?
Heather: Not right away. You know, now, when he deploys, we have a lot of communication; but back then, he had very limited time in a cubicle—and it was the time difference; then we had the lag in the answers and questions.
Darren: Sometimes, it would be like, “hut-hoit / hut-huit,” and then I’d start, then three second delay, and we could never finish.
Heather: And then I’d answer the question he’d asked before. Our phone conversations were never productive in terms of keeping in touch with each other. Then, of course, you’ve got the kids—and they want to speak—they’re asking him, you know: “Have you seen camels? What are the scorpions like?” [Laughter] I think that’s portrayed very well in Indivisible. She’s in the kitchen, cooking—and he’s got his world going on; she’s got her world going on.
Dennis: Yes; it was.
Heather: That was very true for us. That was a lot of the problem—we weren’t able to connect with each other, verbally, very well. For me, that’s my language—is, you know, talking—so we just weren’t getting very much. I wasn’t wanting to know all the classified things going on. But even still, he wasn’t fully processing what was going on with him; so he was in no way to communicate to me what had been going on in his heart.
Bob: Well, you’re adapting to life without your husband—
Bob: —and kind of getting used to this new rhythm of: “This is how I’ve got to do this for a while.” Pretty soon, it’s kind of like: “Oh, yes; I’ve got a husband. I’ve got to remember that,”—it’s not a daily reality for you; is it?
Dennis: Darren, I want to go back to a scene in the movie, where you walk up—you’re hearing about some casualties—and one of the military personnel places a little girl—an Iraqi girl in your arms. Did that really happen like that?
Darren: That’s not far from the truth. As I mentioned, there were multiple times when some families would bring injured kids to our bases. A couple of times, I was involved in helping them get to the medical facility. All I could think about were my own kids: “What if this was my own kid?” That was devastating—and so did all the other soldiers—I mean, when you see a little girl or a little boy come up—and they’ve been caught in whatever / an explosion or crossfire—it really seizes everyone’s attention and heart.
Dennis: Was that really the first hard reality that you faced?—or was it some of your buddies from your base that lost their lives or were injured that first really riveted you to the reality of where you were?
Darren: It was my own guys—it was the military guys who died. As I mentioned—a couple of months after we got there, we started going out and getting into the fight in the neighborhood. Once that happened, that began to really pile up. It wasn’t just once every once in a while—I mean, it was frequently. Then, my other chaplain buddies on the same base—their guys were going through the same thing. There were a couple of months—maybe July, August, September of 2007—where there was a memorial ceremony just about every week at our base.
Bob: In those situations, do you find yourself just going, “I’ve got to figure out how to not care about this anymore.”
Darren: That’s a great question. That is an option, and I chose that option sometimes—
—just to go the next day. In any kind of trauma, one of the responses is, “I need to numb myself,”—I mean, that’s a whole other conversation; right?—“How am I going to numb myself?” There’s a whole lot of ways to do that.
But yes; I made that decision sometimes just to kind of check out, emotionally: “I don’t want to get close to guys, because I might lose them.” I didn’t neglect my soldiers at all—I loved them—I still love them to this day. But almost as a defense mechanism—yes; I could easily go numb.
Bob: David and Esther, we kind of left you out of this discussion; but you understand why—
David: Yes; this is good stuff; yes.
Bob: —because you have been as riveted by this story as we were, watching the movie. Your passion to bring the Turner’s story to the screen was really driven by the fact that most of us don’t have any idea the reality that our servicemen and women are facing and that our chaplains are facing.
David: Absolutely; and I think, when folks see the film this weekend, they’re going to establish a new appreciation for this role—both when troops are at home and, especially, when they’re deployed—
—how there’s this important person that’s serving alongside them—the chaplain, who, even if they’ve never been deployed before—it’s going to be someone that they begin to rely on.
It’s interesting that, when we were filming Indivisible—I learned from several chaplains that there’s always Bibles available in the chaplain’s tent. When those Bibles begin to disappear, it’s when there’s loss of life—when someone loses a brother or fellow soldier, those Bibles start disappearing; because that’s when people start turning to God. That’s just one small example of things I think people will pick up in this film and they say, “I never knew what a chaplain did; but I have a new appreciation, not only for chaplains, but for our troops and the wives and the families they leave behind.”
There are so many elements that we explore in this film that were just so appealing to Esther and [me] as we began to explore the story of Darren and Heather—
—and really, you know, seeking God’s will and having an understanding of the different—when we started creating the different characters that you see in the film—what ways, even beyond their story, there’s other stories being told at the same time about other ways the enemy is fighting against couples / against their families when their husbands and wives are deployed. It’s a story that we’ve grown to love over the last six years, and we believe it’s going to make a big impact.
Dennis: You shared earlier with us, before we came in the studio, how this may be the first movie in a long, long time about a military chaplain and how he exercises his faith on the battlefield.
David: Yes; we did some research. At least, for the past 50 years, we can’t find a feature film about a chaplain or a war movie that’s being told through the eyes of a chaplain as we do in Indivisible.
Again, I think people either feel like that role is not important, or perhaps there’s not a position like that that even exists anymore. I don’t recall ever a movie, where you see a troop or a soldier being baptized—not only at home but in the middle of Iraq—just outside of Baghdad, as it happens in our film.
That one scene right there, for me, is enough to say: “Okay; Lord, you put it on the screen. I believe it’s going to just really touch people and open their eyes to the fact that, whether we’re in Little Rock, Arkansas, as we are today, or whether you’re in Baghdad, God is still there. His work is still being done,” as you see through the life of Darren and Heather.
Dennis: Well, I just want our listeners to know that Indivisible is a five-star movie. They need to go see it.
David: Wow; thank you.
Dennis: They’re going to appreciate what our military is doing for us today and also in the past. I try never to walk by a military person without reaching out my hand and saying, “Thank you for your service, sir”; so I’ll do that right now with you, Darren.
Darren: Thank you.
Dennis: Thank you for your service—
Darren: I appreciate it.
Dennis: —for protecting my family, and we’ve got a big family—it takes a lot of protection [emotion in voice].
Darren: Yes. [Laughter]
Dennis: It takes a lot of military personnel to provide that protection. If you haven’t thanked a person, who has served or is serving recently—and I’d include emergency forces, and policemen—
Dennis: —and highway patrolmen in that group as well.
Bob: If you know somebody, who is stateside in active duty or in the reserve, invite them to come with you this weekend to come see the movie. In fact, I would say—if you know somebody—maybe they don’t go to church—this is the kind of movie you can invite them to that will open up a spiritual conversation.
Dennis: The way faith is portrayed here is not cheesy. This is really well done and you’re going to be really impressed. You’ll be amazed at how buff the guy is who plays Darren. [Laughter]
Darren: In 2007, I think I might have looked like that! [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; okay, okay; send me pictures; okay? [Laughter]
Darren: A lot of mac-n-cheese since then. [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve got, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, the trailer for the movie, Indivisible,which opens this weekend in theaters. If folks want to see how buff the actor looks, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information. Again, we hope that you’ll make plans to go to the theater this weekend, especially if you know a couple who is in the military—if you know a couple who one or both of them have been deployed—invite them. Take them as you guests this weekend. You can find out more about the film when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
A quick word of thanks today to the folks who help make this conversation happen. I’m talking about those of you who listen regularly and who—from time to time or every month as a Legacy Partner—support the work of FamilyLife Today so that we can continue to engage people with practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families.
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I hope you can be back with us tomorrow. We’re going to continue to talk to Darren and Heather Turner and to David and Esther Evans about the movie, Indivisible, and about how Darren and Heather were able to bring healing to their marriage after Darren’s deployment. We’ll have that conversation tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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