The Human and Caring Touch of Chaplaincy

An interview with Fellowship Airport Chaplain Tom Kartzmark

Tom Kartzmark recently celebrated twenty years of ministry at the Ottawa International Airport. THRIVE asked Tom to tell a little of his story for our readers.


THRIVE: How did you get started in the chaplaincy ministry?

TK: I was saved in 1972 and quickly became involved at East Kildonan Baptist Church in Winnipeg, MB. I had a very lucrative career in business, but the conviction that I should be in ministry became increasingly strong. Rev. Philip Philips, founder of the Toronto airport chaplaincy and my then-pastor at Bramalea Baptist Church in Mississauga, ON, Stu Silvester, confirmed the difficult decision to resign and step out in faith. My wife, Vivian, and I would walk some divinely-orchestrated, but formidable, paths until 1986 when I became chaplain at the Winnipeg International Airport. In 1993, I accepted the invitation to become the first chaplain at the Ottawa International Airport.

THRIVE: Can you share with our readers some of the challenges that accompany being an airport chaplain? 

TK: Those who carry out chaplaincy because of their call from God will be forced to mature in faith, sometimes with great personal struggle of soul before the Lord. Though every Christian ministry produces varying degrees of spiritual maturity, chaplaincy, I’ve experienced, sometimes brings about growth through the painful sense of isolation while being a prophet in the wilderness. Chaplains are tested by God and people, saved and unsaved, and the challenges have been customized by God to adjust their every character traits and prepare them for open doors to people’s heartsChaplaincy is the ministry of a missionary to an unreached people.  Also, a chaplain becomes very aware of the society’s cynicism of ‘churchianity’, interpreted as something political and institutional.

I find that most people judge God based on the actions and words of ‘churchianity’. In chaplaincy, that fact becomes most blatant.  When opportunity arises, I often respond with, “Don’t judge God by His disobedient children; search out God for yourself through His Word.”   Chaplaincy is an opportunity for people to see an ‘official’ Christian in their midst as human and caring—to see that the clergy are 'human' and not merely pious professionals out of touch with life’s realities.

THRIVE: In an airport like that of Ottawa, you deal with people from different cultures that speak different languages. What do you consider to be the tool, if we could call it that, which makes ministry to such a diverse audience possible?

TK: One thing I have learned is to become sensitive to a person’s spirit.  Any person, regardless of culture or beliefs, recognizes when someone is relating to their heart from his or her own heart. I do not get into arguments; “Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels”, 2 Tim. 2:23 (NIV).  One aspect of tolerance is not to debate or argue with anyone who doesn’t have an ear to hear or a questioning heart willing to learn.

A motto I have established is: feed the hungry and facilitate the willing.

One point I would stress here is serving people in the name of Christ.  If you view people as targets for conversion and are friendly with the motive of manipulating them to the Lord, they will sense that in their spirit and will resist or intuitively resent you.  I have employees who resent what I stand for but they have come to respect me as a person/pastor. One person in particular became friendly. Later, when she started her death journey, she was most open to the Gospel from me.  We are there to show the love of Christ in action.  It may take time for one to earn trust, but the Spirit will honour right motives in due time, either through holiness in the heart, or fruit borne.  When you have people’s trust, you become more aware of depths of struggling hearts regardless of cultural differences or biases.

THRIVE: There are always highlights as we look back at our ministry careers, often too many to mention. What would be a highlight from your 20 years in Ottawa?

TK: I have found that listening and being sensitive to the Spirit and the person’s heart condition is the prime ingredient to some individuals letting out hidden pain that has plagued them for most of their lives.  One middle-aged woman took a deep breath, exhaled rapidly and blurted: “When I was a teenager I was raped!” Then she let out a long sigh of relief. She had finally let it out for the first time in her life. There have been a number of similar situations where individuals have exposed their souls. 

The highlight that’s most significant to me is when a person feels safe enough to be transparent with me. Another motto I have: Transparency with acceptance is freedom. This is reflected in Isaiah 42:7:  “to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.”

THRIVE: How would you like people to pray for your ministry? 

TK: Pray that I will not give in to discouragement and will persevere when fruitfulness sometimes seems elusive. It is sometimes more about planting seeds than reaping. 


For a comprehensive list of Fellowship Chaplains for whom you can pray, visit