Soul Survivor Outdoor and the Mission Field of the Marines

By Nancy Flory Published on May 23, 2019

“After the events of 9/11, I joined the Marine Corps thinking I would go fight the monsters that were trying to destroy our country. After returning from Iraq I feel like perhaps I’ve become the monster … and I’m afraid to be around my kids.” The Marine suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Lieutenant Colonel Rick Wolf, USMCR, Retired told The Stream that he saw a lot of PTSD issues while part of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment staff. “I had about 20-plus Marines who were suffering from combat wounds and injuries. Some were physical, some were psychological and some had both.” He saw a lot of things that were “pretty negative, pretty dark.” For the most part, the Marines were preparing to transition out of the military due to their injuries.

A Firm Life Foundation

One of the common themes Wolf saw with the Marines who came through the program was they needed a secure and firm life foundation. “As Christians, we know Jesus promised to bring life and make it abundant.” But he couldn’t share his faith freely on base. “You have to be creative and you have to be careful about how faith is engaged. You can deliver faith messages that are generic; meaning, ‘Hey, gentlemen, mind, body and spirit are all important. You need to have a faith or something bigger than yourself as a foundation.'”

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So Wolf decided to try something different. He took the Marines off base. “I took a handful of these Marines out to do this outdoor setting, thinking okay, it’s a wilderness setting, it’s getting us out of the clinical environment, we may be able to have some form of faith discussion. … We’re doing rock-climbing and rappelling, skydiving, sailing, mountain biking, and a few other activities,” as well as learning about God.

Soul Survivor Outdoor

After leaving active duty in 2014, Wolf founded a nonprofit group called Soul Survivor Outdoor. “It just provides a venue, an opportunity to then have those discussions about faith.”

Since then, he has worked with active duty Marines — it was a tactical decision:

Currently, there are approximately 43,000 nonprofits dealing with veteran issues registered with the IRS, but what about the active duty community? In that arena, the patterns are starting to formulate. Young active duty military people are coming into the services and encountering significantly difficult situations while away from home. Home life [may have] had some difficult situations, too, but now they’re away from home, they’re deploying, maybe they see some things or do some things that are really challenging. How do we get engaged in that arena of faith before “the wheels come off the bus” so to speak?

Soul Survivor Outdoor is free to service men and women and completely voluntary. Wolf has asked chaplains to ask the Marines to come to the meeting “so we can be more deliberate on a discussion about God as a foundation. They have a lot of different viewpoints on faith, but we believe Christ is the answer.” He added, “Nobody gets hit over the head with the Bible, but they get a real-life experience.”

The organization had about 400 active duty participants in 2018. This year there have been more. “We’ve had about 420 [this year], so we’re really ahead of where we were last year.”

Success Stories and Evangelism

The success stories are plentiful. “We had a young man a few years back, in his early 20s, maybe 21 at the oldest, come to a number of our events. He did some rock climbing, some skeet shooting. I sat down with a leader from CRU Military and he asked, ‘Do you remember Tristan? I said, ‘yeah, I do.’ He said, ‘Did you know that we had to just about talk him off a ledge, literally, 2-3 times?’ I said, ‘No, I had no idea.’ Then he said, ‘And then he started coming to your events and we never had that issue again.’”

A June 2017 article in Christianity Today spoke to the success of the program. “From the article, an Iraqi translator noticed that a member of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne, had a book in his knee pocket all the time,” Wolf stated. “This book was the Bible, and the Iraqi translator that was assigned to the soldier’s unit, immediately ‘realized there was something different about him.’ Not long afterward the Iraqi came to Christ by way of the American soldier. How many more stories there are like this one isn’t known, but it’s likely there are many.”

A lot of service men and women accept Christ as their Lord and Savior during the time spent off base. “This year [we’ve had] 120 so far. So, I think based on this year’s number, maybe 25-30 percent of the attendees are expressing that they want to accept Christ.”We want to present an opportunity to receive Christ — a foundation, an anchor that they can hold onto and trust.”

Wolf sees his program as an opportunity for Marines to evangelize — to take what they’ve learned, live out their faith and spread the Gospel, wherever they go. “Our hope is that active duty military service members will continue their service so they’re walking out their faith in a deliberate way globally, truly impacting the world, not just their own community, for Christ.”

Please pray for Wolf and Soul Survivor Outdoor that they will continue to have open doors to teach the Gospel to active duty military service men and women.


Nancy Flory is an Associate Editor at The Stream. You can follow her at @NancyFlory3. And please follow The Stream @Streamdotorg

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