Lieutenant Alexis Mapleback comes from generations of Salvo officers (ministers), and is also the newest chaplain in the Royal Australian Air Force at East Sale, a role she finds diverse, challenging and deeply fulfilling, Julie Houghton writes.
What led you to become an officer?
Joining the ranks myself almost felt like the family business, but it was the time we spent in Sri Lanka and Alice Springs as a child that inspired me to follow in my parents’ footsteps. Seeing people in need, and watching my family meet that need and show the love of a God and Creator bigger than themselves, made me want to do more with my life and make a difference. Then I met the man who asked me to marry him four months later and he was already a Salvo officer, so I bit the bullet, gave up my own ideas of making big bucks as a psychologist, and signed on the dotted line.
How challenging is combining salvo ministry with RAAF chaplaincy?
Extremely! There is no doubt in my mind that I am doing what God wants me to do and that I am being equipped for my new role with the RAAF, but juggling the two roles can be a challenge. Between meeting expectations within our Community Support Services, and trying to meet all the training requirements out on base, it’s very busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s involved in being an RAAF chaplain?
My day can be anything from visiting the different squadrons and talking about their kids, lives and hobbies, to giving advice to commanding officers, notifying families of incidents, or working with students while they are out on training exercises. The life of a padre is to be there when people need you and to be a voice of love, respect and truth when it is needed most. I actually had to enlist in the Air Force, become a reservist, and undergo training in order to be qualified. I don’t think I will ever get tired of how amazing it is that I am allowed to be a part of our national defence in this way or how humbling it is to have people turn to me in times of need.
Do you find people in the RAAF will open up to you?
An RAAF base is an interesting world unto itself. Unlike the rest of the world, which would rather not talk about God or have to deal with a minister in their lives, RAAF personnel have a great deal of time for their chaplaincy team and allow us into their lives with respect and mutual trust. There is nothing like being pushed to your limits regularly to make you want to have someone around to talk to. As the only female and youngest member of the team, I have found that I have been very quickly accepted on the base and offer a different perspective and voice from the others I work with.
How do you regard this role on a personal basis?
I see this as my greatest honour and achievement to date. The people I work with very literally defend our country and all that we love and stand for, so for me to play a very small part in supporting and caring for them seems the least I can do.
What is life like for you away from being a chaplain?
Away from being a chaplain and an officer I am a mum of two pre-schoolers who are my greatest joy and the reason I do what I do. I finished my second bachelor’s degree last year and my family has recently taken on a new big dog, so life is busy, but I have never felt so fulfilled—I am living what God created me for.