Zachary Ferguson

Zachary Ferguson

Soon after being elected a SkillsUSA national officer, Zachary Ferguson was asked about the benefits this new experience might bring. “SkillsUSA is building me up to become what I can be,” he replied, “and what I have the potential to become.”

The Hudson, N.C., student may not have realized it at the time, but he was paraphrasing a slogan made popular by his future employer: the U.S. Army. Ferguson started basic training Jan. 13, and after that ends, he’ll work as a chaplain assistant, tending to Army personnel of all denominations.

“I’ll be doing the same things I do now as a youth minister,” he explains.

In a very different setting, of course. Asked if he’s worried about possibly being sent into the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ferguson is reflective. “There’s no way to know, but more than likely, I’ll be sent over,” he says. “I’m looking at it as a missionary trip.”

That’s not to say he is going into this with his eyes closed. Ferguson knows the physical risks that come with his service but says he’s at peace with that possibility.

“I want to give our soldiers their morale back,” he points out. “They are over there in the sand and heat with scorpions and bad water and some bad people. They need encouragement.”

If he is sent into the war zone, the aspiring priest says he’ll find his own encouragement in the Old Testament story of Daniel being held captive in Babylon. Ironically, the ancient city’s ruins are in Iraq. Ferguson adds that he was inspired by the Rev. Billy Graham’s advice to model himself after Daniel.

“They took Daniel there as a slave,” he explains, “and he had to learn the customs and traditions, but he still honored his beliefs and did what was right.”

Ferguson hopes to be able to continue working with a nonprofit organization he founded in 2004 called Fabian’s Gift. His foundation shifted focus from community service to spreading the message of nonviolence after the death of Ferguson’s half brother in a gang-related shooting. (For details, go to: www.fabiansgift.org.)

Ferguson sees his foundation as an opportunity to make the world a better place. “This is for me to take it back to where I live and spread the message of nonviolence,” he says.

Some might wonder how his foundation’s mission fits with serving in the armed forces, Ferguson acknowledges. Yet to him, this calling makes perfect sense.

“I want to go and relieve some of the struggles they’re having and also serve our great country,” he says. Or to paraphrase again, be all he can be.