Beaverton chaplain finds his
purpose through 'miracle' in Iraq
Nate Lyons never pictured himself in Army fatigues.
He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do through high school and college, but he wasn’t planning to join the military. He wasn’t planning on being seriously injured while on active duty, and he didn’t think he’d find God and eventually become a chaplain.
But Lyons, now 15 years removed from the service, persevered through all kinds of situations he never thought he’d be in, paving the way for a fulfilling career serving those he can sympathize with.
“I was one of the most anti-military people ever,” Lyons said of his time in high school and college. “Recruiters would call, and I’d laugh and run my mouth. I said if someone got in my face, I would yell right back at them. I had zero interest.
“Then 9/11 happened, and it changed my perspective on things,” Lyons said. “Everything I was doing was about me, but there was a bigger picture out there.”
Lyons said he was about to graduate from college when he decided flying planes for the Navy looked fun. When he scored one point too low to join the program, recruiters showed him the military equipment he could use as an infantryman, sealing his decision.
Lyons joined the infantry three days after graduation and was immediately activated and sent to Colorado to train before his tour of duty in Iraq.
Shortly thereafter, he landed in Kuwait on Easter Day 2003.
Lyons’ mission was to protect supply routes from Kuwait to the Baghdad International Airport, keeping ambushes at bay.
On his first night in Iraq, Lyons met the military chaplain, who wanted to pray over the soldiers.
“With rounds going off overhead, I figured I should try to get God on my side,” Lyons said.
The next day, Lyons went to find the chaplain again, only to be told that the clergyman had returned to Kuwait that morning.
“God abandons you when you need him — that’s what I thought,” he said.
Lyons said he was almost immediately injured by a heavy pack coming down on him, causing ongoing pains through his arm and head. He was given pain medicine and continued his tour of duty for 14 months before his deployment was finished.
After two more years of physical therapy, Lyons was x-rayed and discovered his neck had been broken.
Doctors at Oregon Health & Science University placed a few screws in his neck, but not before the chief neurosurgeon issued a grave message that would change the course of Lyons’ career.
“He said, ‘How you are not dead or a quadriplegic is a miracle,’” Lyons recalled. “Clearly, that whole ‘God abandoning me’ thing was wrong.”
He spent some time in sales before moving back to Oregon to pursue a career in medicine. While looking to become a physician assistant, Lyons felt what he called a “God moment” when he decided to work with veterans.
“I wanted to help them since I might have been through the same things, or I could sympathize with them,” he said.
Rather than pursuing medicine, Lyons became a chaplain through the local Foursquare Church and was encouraged to volunteer at the Salvation Army Veterans and Family Center in Beaverton. Before long, a job opened for the chaplain at the congregate homeless care center focused on veterans and their families.
Lyons applied — though hesitant, not expecting to get the job — and has now been working there for one year, as of Thanksgiving week.
As chaplain at the Salvation Army Veterans and Family Center, Lyons runs weekly chapel, oversees movie nights, the garden and greenhouse, and provides children at the center with books and treats.
“I’ve never been happier in a career than I am now,” he said. “This place feels like home to me, and it does for so many people.”
Now a listening ear to veterans in the area, Lyons aims to remind people — especially veterans — that they are not alone.
“There are so many veterans, even nonveterans now, after the COVID shutdowns, who are suffering,” he said. “Talk to somebody, call 988 (a suicide and crisis hotline), a friend, or somebody.”