A Bronx pastor who earned a Purple Heart Award serving in Vietnam received the President's Volunteer Service Award on Friday night for his decades of ministry aiding persecuted Christians and others impacted in war zones worldwide.
Pastor Bill Devlin, who serves as co-pastor of Infinity Bible Church in South Bronx and runs the ministries REDEEM! and Widows and Orphans, was an honoree at a gala banquet in The Hilton Hotel in Melville, Long Island, New York. The President's White House Council on Service and Civic Participation administered the award ceremony.
The award honors individuals whose service impacts their communities and inspires others to take action.
Devlin told The Christian Post he is "grateful to God" for the award, which came more than half a century after he first abandoned his ways as a "God-hating atheist" and came to Christ.
"I was a radical God-hating atheist, and when I was hitchhiking on the San Diego Freeway on June 23, 1971, a Jesus freak shared the Good News of Jesus and the Gospel with me," he recalled. "And that night, I received Jesus into my heart and life."
"I immediately started in ministry as a young Christian," he added. "And a week after I was converted to Christ, … I volunteered to go into the military, to the United States Navy."
Devlin served in Vietnam until he was "shot up" after a bomb landed on his ship, which was located off the coast at the time. While he "initially refused the Purple Heart" because he still had all his limbs intact, Devlin's commanding officer insisted that he accept the honor.
Following his service in Vietnam, Devlin spent a quarter century in Christian ministry in the U.S., got married and had five children. He and his wife, Nancy, have been married for over 44 years.
The 70-year-old has made headlines over the years for his willingness to travel the globe to stand in solidarity and provide practical aid to Christians persecuted for their faith.
Devlin was nominated for the award by Nate Butler of the Righteous Church of God in Washington, D.C., whom he described as a "dear friend."
After learning of his nomination, Devlin was instructed to provide a "brief synopsis" of his volunteer efforts and discuss why he should receive the award. He said none of the employees at his volunteer ministries receive a salary or benefits.
"We are all volunteers, which is probably unique in the nonprofit and ministry world," he noted.
His ministries receive funding from 46 churches of "every different flavor or color," providing payments ranging from $10 to $100 a month.
Devlin outlined the story behind the formation of REDEEM!, which helps persecuted Christians around the world.
"While I was doing ministry in Philadelphia some 22 years ago, I was invited to Islamabad, Pakistan," he said.
At that time, Devlin had not traveled overseas in more than 25 years. He first received the invitation to go to Pakistan in January 2001 from his Pakistan-born friend Victor Gill at a "dinner of the Pakistani community in Philadelphia."
"It was me and probably 25 Pakistani leaders in Philadelphia, and they said, ... 'You've got to go to Pakistan. We need you to see what's going on and you need to hear the cry of the persecuted Church and persecuted Christians in Pakistan.'"
Devlin said, "hearing an hour of stories and seeing people who bore the marks of persecution" with "scars on their back" from where they had been "whipped or beaten" prompted him to announce at the meeting, "I will go."
With Gill, Devlin traveled through seven cities in eight days.
"I just heard and met with story after story of persecuted Christian believers in Pakistan, and my eyes were opened," he said.
A couple of years later, Devlin was invited to Sudan to see the persecution of Christians there.
"And then a year after that, I was invited to Cuba," he added.
Over the years, Devlin received invitations to witness persecution in other places, including Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Hong Kong, Nigeria and Jordan.
He became a pastor in 2008 and served as an interim senior pastor at Manhattan Bible Church, a Spanish church located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, from 2008 to 2013.
Devlin said during that time, God was burning a hole in his heart "about the persecuted Church, about widows, orphans, the broken, the neglected, the forgotten, the disenfranchised, the persecuted believer, [and] the persecuted Church."
"What finally pushed me over the edge was ... during the Obama presidency and … people were saying to President Obama, 'we need to get boots on the ground … in Iraq.'"
"God spoke to me one day, … and said to me, 'Where are your boots, Pastor Devlin? You're in the safety and security and comfort of the United States of America, you've seen the … persecuted Church, you've seen persecuted believers, you've been in their living rooms, you've been in the prison cells, you've seen the scars on their bodies. Where are your boots?'"
This conversation with God struck a nerve with Devlin. A couple of months later, Devlin said he had another conversion with God, instructing him to "look at these three words: God, Gospel, [and] Good News."
God urged Devlin to "look at the first two letters" of those three words: "go."
From there, Devlin saw it as his mission to "go to war zones" and minister to persecuted Christians on a full-time basis. Devlin insists that he only goes to war zones that are "hard" and "dangerous" and located "where nobody else is going." He only travels to places if he receives a direct invitation.
Devlin says he travels out of the country for three weeks out of every month. He provided examples of his ministry work in the synopsis he provided to the President's White House Council on Service and Civic Participation.
During the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the mid-2010s, Devlin, through his ministry, provided financial support to hundreds of Yazidi girls and women captured by the brutal terrorist group in Iraq, many of which were used as sex slaves.
He's also supported displaced families residing in camps for the internationally displaced in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. His charity has also assisted in rebuilding Iraqi cities destroyed by the Islamic State in 2014 and he's volunteered at a Syrian hospital caring for those injured in the Syrian Civil War.
In Nigeria, Devlin has provided trauma healing sessions for those who have lost spouses, children, [and] family members.
His ministry has also supported rebuilding two churches destroyed by terrorists in the African nation, purchased an orphanage where dozens of children were about to be evicted, and funded the private school education of children orphaned by terrorism.
Devlin's efforts to provide emotional and psychological support extend across all the countries he serves.
In Sri Lanka, Devlin helped raise money to rebuild churches destroyed by bombers.
In East Pokot, Kenya, Devlin said his ministry has helped build schools and churches, reducing female genital mutilation and child marriages previously common in the area due to the absence of infrastructure, electricity and water.
"All of that has now been recognized by the Biden White House, and we're deeply grateful for this recognition. But again, we give all glory to God," Devlin concluded.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com