ATLANTA (AP) -- Members of the military seeking a daily dose of spiritual inspiration and guidance can turn to a pocket-size version of a popular devotional that even matches the desert colors of their fatigues.
Blackaby Ministries International has issued a camouflage-covered paperback version of its popular devotional "Experiencing God Day-by-Day" that's being distributed to servicemembers in Iraq and at home.
"We believe when people are placing their lives daily in the face of danger that we need to do all we can to bring them assurance that God is watching over them and that they can have courage and peace in their difficult circumstances," said Richard Blackaby, the ministry's president.
Blackaby and his father, Henry Blackaby, founder of Atlanta-based Blackaby Ministries International, authored the 380-page, 365-day devotional in 1998.
The hardcover version, bound in black with the image of a flame going up one side, sells for about $20. Members of the military get the camouflage-covered paperback version free, thanks to corporate donations.
The devotional offers a daily piece of scripture, commentary on the passage, and advice on practical applications for the message.
The idea for the military motif was hatched when Henry Blackaby spoke to 210 Army chaplains in Atlanta last year.
Val Van Dress, a chaplain at Fort Lewis, Wash. and longtime fan of the Blackabys' writings, said she noticed the popularity of Christian literature among soldiers when she was in Iraq in 2004 and suggested the camo cover.
"That was a good idea. Maybe that might get some more soldiers to read them because it feels like it's made just for us," said Pfc. Natasha Hargrove, a 24-year-old single mother from Tuscaloosa, Ala. stationed at Fort Lewis, who received one of the books.
Van Dress stressed the importance of daily reading. "When you have that little snippet each day to reflect on, it helps to stay focused," she said.
George Williams, vice president of B&H Publishing, the Nashville, Tenn., company that publishes the Blackabys' works, said he was enthusiastic about the idea from the start.
The company already publishes camouflage-covered Bibles, and it also got permission from the Department of Defense to publish leather-bound military Bibles featuring the official seals of each branch of the military.
He said the devotionals provide a distraction during down time to keep the troops' thoughts from wandering to the dangers they face.
"It was a fantastic idea," Williams said. "It was a great opportunity to really put something of value in the soldiers' hands."
Henry Blackaby regularly meets with and dispenses spiritual guidance to a group of executives from Fortune 500 companies who are members of the CEO Forum, which used to be part of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family.
"He told them that God had laid on our heart that we might want to pursue this for our servicemen and women and many of them came through with sizeable donations," said Jim Redford, administrator for Blackaby Ministries International.
Blackaby quickly raised $250,000 to print a first run of 100,000 devotionals and provide them to the military free of charge. Just before Christmas last year, 30,000 copies were sent to chaplains in Iraq and the remaining 70,000 were sent to 34 military installations in the U.S.
After receiving positive feedback, Blackaby had a second run of about 50,000 printed in August.
"The response has certainly indicated that lives are being transformed," Redford said. "People are using the devotional in their units so they are studying and praying over the same scripture each day."
Redford sometimes gets requests from parents that a devotional be sent to their child in the military. In those cases, he said, he sends two copies - one for the parents, one for the child - so the family can pray over the same passages.
About 3,000 were sent to Fort Lewis, where Van Dress said she has been handing them out. She said that whenever someone comes to her seeking advice, she opens that day's entry in the devotional.
"Every single time, whatever the title is for that day, it will have something to do with what I have been talking to that soldier about. Every single time," she said. "So I really think that God's hand is all over that work."
When 26-year-old Sgt. John Bell of Fort Lewis decided he wanted to return to religion after shying away from it for a number of years, he went to see Van Dress in mid-July, and she gave him one of the devotionals.
"I've just now experienced coming back to God, and it's been really helpful to have a message for each day," he said. "It's nice to have a specific thing to work on each day."