April (Hurt) Riley’s first job was as a dishwasher in church camp.
She was raised in church, where her father had many positions, including eventually being the pastor. She was involved in many aspects of her church, including youth conventions, summer camps, and any time the church doors were open. “You name it, I was there,” she admits.
However, just being in church was not enough for this woman who would become a U.S. Navy chaplain’s wife. Her husband Matt Riley is an Assemblies of God chaplain with the U.S. Navy, aboard the USS Port Royal (CG 73), stationed out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The grace of God on Matt’s life was chronicled in an earlier AG News feature.
“But, I had to learn how to hear from God myself and not just through someone else,” April admits.
April graduated high school with every intention of attending the Assemblies of God school she had already chosen. She had made her plans, and it was settled. But one month before school started, she was asked by a family friend to tour Central Bible College (CBC — now a part of Evangel University) in Springfield, Missouri. As she was driving home with her parents after that visit, she told them she knew God was calling her to CBC.
“I’m such a planner. It was very disturbing to me to make this change so late in the game. But, I did it! I completed the application and other paperwork for CBC — and got my acceptance letter essentially on my way to the school.”
April felt that the best four years of her life were spent on the campus, learning not only theology and youth ministry from some gifted people who served as her professors, but also learning more about herself, about life, and how to listen to God’s voice.
April volunteered to serve as a worship leader at the church she chose to attend in Springfield — and where she met her future husband Matt. “I started working at the Assemblies of God national office before I graduated from CBC, and continued working there until I was offered a position with the Arkansas District. Right before I left Springfield for that job, I met Matt.” Once again, April thought she had everything figured out — until God directed her steps.
“Our pastor, Gerald Horne, made up his mind to play matchmaker — a role completely uncharacteristic for him. I had forgotten that my plans are not always what God’s plans are.” Pastor Horne’s insistence at getting the two to talk met with resistance on both Matt and April’s part, but the pastor continued to push. Matt came from an un-churched background until God intervened and worked in his life. At the time the two met, he was an Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) military chaplaincy candidate. Matt and April talked a few times — and right before she left for Arkansas, they began dating.
“We kept in touch by phone and visited a few times, and by December of that year, Matt proposed. We were married the next August,” April says. “Matt and I often reflect back and shake our heads at how all that happened. We laugh, and say that only God can bring two completely different people from two completely different backgrounds together to accomplish His will.”
April considers herself to be extremely patriotic. “I love this country, but more so, I love the men and women who serve it and their families.” It never occurred to her that God could use the patriotism she felt and the youth ministry she trained for to later minister to what she calls the country’s largest youth group. April comments, “I am blown away daily when I think about how young these marines and sailors are who are defending my freedom.”
Chaplain Scott McChrystal, the military/veterans affairs endorser for AG Chaplaincy Ministries, a branch of AG U.S. Missions, notes that chaplaincy ministry is spiritual warfare on the front lines. “Chaplain spouses support their partner with prayer, understanding, and encouragement. Some highly talented chaplain wives, like April, add enormous creativity toward helping to engage warriors and families with the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Matt and April have three young children, which are her main duty, rather than any official involvement in her husband’s command. She started homeschooling two years ago. “However, when the ship is deployed, I find that just being here for the other spouses is a wonderful thing,” April says.
The families of the deployed ship’s crew meet regularly. “The military community is like no other I know of. It is so supportive. I have had to let go of a lot of my pride and independence and accept the help offered, and that has opened up many doors for building relationships,” April reflects.
“Women often experience difficulties and process through struggles in different ways than men do,” observes Kay Burnett, National Women’s Ministries director. “Having the encouragement of a dear friend or even a group of women during hard times can make all the difference in the journey. A healthy, supportive community of women is a gift from God."
Matt deploys often. And, as before, Matt and April see God moving in their lives, as He provides answers to their prayers for April to have help while Matt is gone. “I’d be lying if I said the struggle of my husband being away and raising three kids as a ‘single’ mom for months at a time isn’t difficult sometimes.
“But God knows what we need and when we need it — so much better than we do. Putting that reality to practice in everyday life can just be hard sometimes,” she says. “Then, He does amazing things to remind us of just how much He cares about the little things in our lives.”
April and Matt recently relocated to the San Diego area and are excited for what God has next.
When asked if she feels she is making a sacrifice by being a chaplain’s wife, April’s response is humbling. “I think we all make sacrifices, no matter what line of work we are in. This just happens to be a little different. The people we are serving and ministering to are making the ultimate sacrifice.”
This article originally appeared on AG News in 2016.