Cmdr. David Bynum ('84) | 2013 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year

When David Bynum was 13, the eighth-grader was so sure of his life’s mission that he wrote it down and sealed it in an envelope. He scrawled, “Open in 1984,” on the outside and forgot about it.

Eight years later, ACU graduate David Bynum (’84) had just walked across the Moody Coliseum stage, completing his bachelor’s degree in biblical studies, when his mother handed him the same envelope.

From 1976, a boy’s handwriting spoke to the young man: I will graduate in 1984 with a degree in Bible.

“It was very rewarding,” Bynum said, recalling the moment. “I’d set a goal as an eighth-grader and had seen it fulfilled.”

Bynum hasn’t always been so prescient about his career paths. Intending to pursue a ministry career in local churches, he earned Master of Divinity (1988) and Doctor of Ministry (1994) degrees from ACU while ministering in Waco and Hearne. But he left traditional ministry to join the U.S. Navy and serve as a chaplain, where his accomplishments have led to being named ACU’s 2013 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year.

For 18 years Cmdr. David Bynum has coached, counseled and consoled young men and women in the heat of battle – whether against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan or internal enemies that know no geographic limitations.

“It’s service,” Bynum said of the stresses military personnel undergo. “Your first thought is not for yourself. It’s for others, and it costs you. It costs you to leave your family and put yourself in harm’s way. It costs to move. It costs your children and spouse. There’s a personal cost to military service, and that’s why it’s called service.”

A San Saba, Texas, native, Bynum said he knew from age 10 that he would become a minister. By 13, he had the plan mapped out. As an ACU undergrad, mentors in his life encouraged him to stay and earn his M.Div, a decision he called “one of the best I have ever made.”

With the advanced degree in hand, he ministered for a decade, but he grew dissatisfied. He spoke with his father about what he should do and received a piece of advice: Sometimes our determination for a thing pushes us further than we ought to go.

Bynum decided his determination to be a local minister – which had served him well through college and graduate school – was stronger than his desire to continue doing it.

“After 10 years of local work, I really wanted to broaden myself,” Bynum said, “and broaden my ministry experience.”

He signed up for a three-year tour of duty with the Navy, assuming he would leave when it expired.

“Elizabeth and I talked about how much we enjoyed it,” he said, “and we felt that was the place where God wanted us to be. So here we are now, after 18 years. … That was great advice from my dad because this has been a richer, more rewarding ministry for us.”

The nature of the ministry was starkly different, Bynum said, and the stakes were much higher. After just a few months, Bynum had counseled more people with suicidal thoughts and attempts than he had in the previous 10 years in private ministry.

Another big difference: Navy chaplains serve within the units, which means they deploy with the service members. Bynum finished a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, in April 2012.

“That’s one of the advantages of being chaplains with field-deployed units: You go to work with your congregation,” he said. “That’s why the bond forms between service members and the chaplains.” 

In a war-torn place like Kabul, where “there was no safe place” outside the base, chaplains help “provide a sense of the sacred” when existential questions inevitably arise, Bynum said.

Deployment was difficult, he said, but more so for his family. “I can picture my family – where they are, what their routine is,” Bynum said.“Because there’s more uncertainty for them, emotionally it’s harder on those who stay behind.”

Upon completion of his year in Afghanistan, Bynum was promoted to captain, the beginning of a process that will culminate in receiving the stripes on his uniform in September. In July, a new assignment will take him to the Pentagon, where he will be director of operations for the Navy Chief of Chaplains office, responsible for overseeing the operations of the Chaplain Corps, comprising about 1,700 chaplains and support personnel.

In the meantime, Bynum is completing his fifth collegiate degree, and third master’s, this one a Master of Strategic Studies degree at the National War College. He earned a Master of Theology degree from Duke University in 2003.

Although he didn’t know it at the time, Bynum said his education at ACU was a vital part of his preparation for his life in the military, citing ACU’s mission to educate students for Christian service and leadership throughout the world.

“To educate is not enough,” he said, noting that his career has taken him to 15 countries. “I just applaud ACU for keeping that singular focus of service and leadership throughout the world. ACU is the foundation of my career, and it prepared me very well.”

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