Judy T. Malana didn’t receive a robust welcome when she walked into a recruiter’s office nearly a quarter century ago with the notion of becoming a Navy chaplain.
At the time, Malana — petite, Asian, female — didn’t look the part of the traditional chaplain.
Yet by 1998, Malana, an endorsed chaplain with U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries, became the first female chaplain assigned to any guided-missile cruiser, then the last male bastion in the surface fleet.
But reporting to the USS Gettysburg as command chaplain didn’t exactly remove all traces of skepticism from the 340-member crew — 336 of them male. The senior chaplain brusquely proclaimed that women shouldn’t be in the Navy. Furthermore, he insinuated that Malana had committed a sin just by living on board as the first female chaplain assigned to the male-dominated guided-missile cruiser.
Thankfully, attitudes have improved in the intervening years. Now, Malana holds the rank of captain and currently serves as the regional Naval District chaplain based in Washington, D.C. The first woman Navy chaplain in the Assemblies of God remains the highest-ranking female naval chaplain representing the Fellowship.
Malana is a “sea services” chaplain who has served ashore, afloat, and overseas, rotating between the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines. Malana, who has traveled to two dozen countries, relishes serving outside the four walls of the church.
“The most exciting place to be is where people need you the most,” says Malana, 51, “whether that’s providing services to sailors on a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, caring for wounded warriors and their families in a hospital, or providing pastoral counseling to first responders after a natural disaster. God’s presence and comfort can become real when someone is in crisis.”
Malana’s inspiration to serve in the Navy came from her father, Rogelio Malana. As a child, he lost everything in his native Philippines during World War II when the Japanese invaded. Grateful for American liberation of the Philippines, Malana moved to the States and in the late 1950s enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Even though by law he could only work as a cabin boy initially, Malana retired 20 years later as an electrician’s mate who voluntarily deployed during the Vietnam War.
Malana is appreciative of the AG’s supportive stance of her role as a woman in ministry. Over the years she says she repeatedly has encountered male chaplains from other denominations that don’t endorse women chaplains whose interactions ranged from indifferent to hostile.
“My biggest challenge is to maintain a professional grace to overcome others’ implicit bias and preconceived notions,” Malana says.
Coast guardsmen, marines, and sailors usually aren’t so picky.
“People who are in crisis and need a chaplain really aren’t concerned about gender,” she says.
Malana credits Charles W. Marvin with helping her through the rough stretches in the early years. Marvin retired from the Navy in 1998 and then served for nearly eight years as national director of Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Ministries. Marvin remembers being impressed with Malana’s capabilities from the beginning.
“Judy displayed a confident, poised, teachable attitude in assessing future possibilities as a Navy chaplain,” Marvin says. “Investment in Judy paid great dividends as she has demonstrated the potential we saw in her from the beginning and she has risen through the ranks.”
Scott McChrystal, military representative and endorser for U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries, says Malana is a trailblazer who has served as a role model and mentor for many women Navy chaplains. McChrystal says Malana is extremely gifted in interpersonal relations, and has benefited from a vast network to help chaplains enhance their support to Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard service personnel and their families.
“She has demonstrated extraordinary abilities toward planning, designing, and executing training across a broad spectrum of topics related to religion,” McChrystal says. “Her grasp of organizations and missions has enabled her to be a major contributor to policy within the Navy chaplaincy, extending as well relating to matters throughout the Department of Defense.”
“Some of the challenges and obstacles I had coming up through the ranks aren’t around now,” Malana says. “There still is a ways to go, but women in the military are more normal now.”
Malana hopes other women consider the possibility of joining the military as chaplains.
“God gives grace to overcome any job obstacle, whether it’s internal, external, or your own self-doubt,” Malana says.
Malana’s husband, Mark Clester, is a retired combat U.S. Marine veteran who served in the Iraq War and is now a defense contractor. The couple have four children: Jonah, 15; Joshua, 13; Jeremiah, 9; and Jordan Asia, 8.
The first female chaplain commissioning in the U.S. armed forces occurred in 1973. AG endorsed Chaplain Delana Small became the first woman chaplain assigned to a combat arms battalion in 2012.
Photo: Charles Marvin (left) and Scott McChrystal (right) have been mentors for Judy Malana.
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