- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2005

The Rev. David C. Southall lives on a wing and a prayer. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Mr. Southall is senior chaplain at Washington Dulles International Airport. He manages the airport’s Interfaith Chapel but spends most of each day walking its concourses, greeting workers and travelers and counseling them when needed.

Amid the hustle and bustle, Mr. Southall is an island of calm, a reassuring figure to all who encounter him and a favorite of airport workers who treat him as a kindly father figure.

His ministry is like no other.

“I like to joke that my church has 17,000 members and 24 million visitors,” Mr. Southall said, referring to the number of people who work at the airport and the number of travelers who pass through its gates annually.

Mr. Southall, 63, spent six years on active duty in the Air Force and another 20 in the reserves, working in intelligence.

He became a Christian in the 1980s, when he and his wife lived in Indiana.

Mr. Southall has a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Purdue University. He earned his master’s at Southern Evangelical Seminary near Charlotte, N.C., in May 2003, and became a chaplain at Dulles three months later.

The chapel is located in Terminal B, near the Brooks Brothers store and the Korean Air Clubhouse.

It is open round-the-clock and holds services for Muslims on Fridays, Catholics on Saturdays and Protestants on Sundays. The services are led by people of those faiths.

Mr. Southall supervises two other ministers who work at Dulles, and estimates 75 percent of his time is spent ministering to airport workers.

“It’s different than anything I’ve ever done. I’m more of a do-type person. I’m used to fixing things. Here, if someone needs help, they’ll let you know,” Mr. Southall says.

On Wednesday, Mr. Southall begins his day as he does most, arriving at the airport from his Gainesville, Va., home between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. His neck is draped with several identification badges, and he wears an Air Force pin on his gray suit.

After arriving at the main terminal, Mr. Southall walks through the employee security checkpoint and then visits his office inside the chapel, where he checks his phone messages.

Next, he hits the concourses, greeting travelers and giving directions to those who mistake him for an airport manager.

At about noon, Mr. Southall climbs the steps into the “ramp tower” to visit with the workers who direct local traffic at Dulles.

“Hide the beer. The chaplain’s here,” he calls out, generating chuckles from the workers.

It is important to become a familiar face to the workers so they will feel comfortable with him, Mr. Southall says.

Sometimes, he can see distress in a person’s face, but it takes awhile for the person to approach him.

“Then, it’s like opening a faucet. It all comes out,” Mr. Southall says.

Most big airports have chaplains who provide spiritual solace to workers and fliers traveling to funerals or to visit sick friends or relatives.

The brightly lit chapel at Dulles is busy on this day. Several Muslims come in to pray on the rugs in one corner, while others dropped by to peruse a rack of brochures with titles such as “So Who is This Jesus, Anyway?” and “How to Know for Sure You Are Going to Heaven.”

Dulles officials once recruited Mr. Southall to help an Egyptian man who flew to the United States because he said he had a vision of meeting President Bush. The man did not speak English, so Mr. Southall tracked someone down who could translate and explain that the president does not accept uninvited visitors.

On another occasion, Mr. Southall was surprised when an airport worker came to him and announced he wanted to covert from Islam to Christianity.

Moments like these brighten Mr. Southall’s life.

“You never know how the Lord prepares hearts,” he says.

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