Feature

Caring for Military Families

A mission field in America

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As a child, I thought being a missionary meant you left home and traveled to a land far away to show the love of God to those less fortunate. However, I am entrenched in a vast mission field right here in America. Opportunity abounds in every community, and our work will not be complete until the grace of God has been shared with every family who endures the burden of our nation’s freedom.

Prior to my son’s enlistment in the army, I was completely unaware of the challenges and sacrifices that military families endure. I, like most Americans, was proud of our country, our flag and our freedom. I was grateful for our men and women in the armed forces, but I had no idea what daily life was like for our service members or their families.

My son was sent to Baghdad, Iraq, just five months after he graduated from high school, and my life was forever changed. My very organized and controlled days suddenly started unraveling as I tried to deal with my new emotions. In the midst of all the uncertainties and worries, I learned that the one thing that would always be there was the unknown: I would never know where my son was, what he was doing or if he was alive. I would wait desperately for his phone call; the sound of his voice would calm my fears—for just a little while.

Despite my efforts to find local help, I could not identify one support group for military families who did not live close to a military installation. I felt alone, abandoned and overwhelmed with my new role as the mother of a soldier. It seemed like no one understood what I was going through.

I am one of the lucky ones; I was raised in a church and know the love and mercy of my Savior, Jesus Christ. God poured His grace upon me during my son’s first deployment. Through a Bible study, God trained and equipped me with the truth and knowledge that I needed. God also made it clear to me that His gift was not for me alone. 1 Peter 4:10 says: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its varying forms.” He called me to be a good steward of His grace and help other military families.

In 2009, I met Paula Parker, the mother of a female Marine reservist. She too was struggling with having a child preparing for deployment to Iraq. I reached out to Paula and shared how God ministered to me during my son’s deployment, also revealing the burden God had given me to help other military families. Paula and I began supporting each other.

In January 2010, Paula and I founded Military Families Ministry (MFM) at the State College (Pa.) Alliance Church. We immediately identified eight families in our church that had a loved one serving in the military. We created a hero board to honor these service members and then launched an Adopt-a-Hero program in our congregation. The “adopting family” agreed to write letters and e-mails, send cards and care packages and love and support the hero and his or her family. We enlisted knitters to make prayer patches and prayer shawls that were then prayed over by our ministry group; the items were given to a hero or a family member as reminders that God loves them and that people are praying for them. Our group consists mainly of parents of service members, but we have volunteers, too. The group gathers monthly for a potluck dinner and meeting. This group is now supporting 14 military families.

Later in 2010, I learned that my husband’s company was transferring him to Colorado. I was devastated and could not understand God’s plan. We just got this ministry group running, and I had to move to the other side of the country. I will never forget Paula’s profound response to the news: “This was just your training. God is going to use you to start another group in Colorado. Who knows where He will take this ministry?”

Paula was right. God had a big plan in moving my husband and me west. In January 2011, we did start another MFM group at the Mountain View Fellowship Church in Strasburg, Colorado. Twenty people participate in our monthly potluck dinner meetings. We have created our hero board and just launched our own Adopt-a-Hero program.

I am amazed at the doors God has been opening for this ministry. Both the Pennsylvania and Colorado ministry groups are growing, and each partners with other organizations in their communities to come alongside military families. MFM supports several Alliance army chaplains as they minister to entire brigades. Our Web site acquaints inquirers with our work, and our monthly newsletter brings updates and features to subscribers via email. We are working with several other churches to start additional MFM groups.

This ministry is a powerful statement of the grace of our loving God. Every church has two primary focuses: take care of their own and reach the lost. This ministry challenges churches to meet the very specific needs of military families within their congregations. It also provides an incredible opportunity for every church to reach out to the lost in their community. Military families are hurting. Service members endure multiple deployments. Some make the ultimate sacrifice, and others come home injured or missing limbs; many return traumatized by what they have seen and done. The families are struggling, too, with fear and worry while their loved one is deployed, long separations and loneliness for spouses and children, caring for their hero when they return home. These families are searching for something to get them through and they are open—desperate.

I believe that God is paving the way for MFM to establish groups in churches across America. There are currently 1,477,896 active duty service members and 1,458,500 reservists. Each one has a family that needs support. These families are scattered across the country and can be found in every community. God calls us to serve one another, faithfully administering His grace. We, as Christians, have an obligation to love, encourage, and support the lost and the hurting. We, as Americans, must acknowledge that the freedom we enjoy every day is not free. Many families around the country are sacrificing daily for this freedom; we all have an obligation to them.

For information on how to start a ministry group in your church or how to get involved with Military Families Ministry, please visit our Web site at www.militaryfamiliesminstry.com.

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