By Kima Jude
From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we find our country's
military serving all over the globe. But their families? They're often right
where they were left, living in our neighborhoods, working in our communities
and serving in our churches. They are our nation's "left behind," people for
whom military deployment means being separated from a loved one for months or
With a U.S. military presence growing globally, the ranks of the left behind
are growing, too. While such sacrifices were once largely limited to families
of career military, reservists are now deployed in record numbers, and their
families also are paying the price.
Identify your military families. Know who they are and make that information
known to the rest of the church. Dave Mullis, chaplaincy manager for the North
American Mission Board, suggests that churches display lists of military
personnel in highly visible locations as an effective way to increase
Celebrate your military. Yardley Kush, leader and founder of Military Wives
Encouragement Group at First Baptist Church of Norfolk, appreciates special
worship that includes patriotic music. "It's a wonderful thing that we remember
our service members," says Kush, whose husband has served in the Navy for 21
Use your military. Get Christians who serve our nation to also serve the
local church. Because they know they may not have much time before they're
transferred, most military are quick to jump in and get involved.
Partner with military chaplains. Michael Husfelt suggests churches appoint
committees to act as liaisons to local bases to provide additional means of
support. "It never hurts to multiply services." Regular contact also means your
church will be aware of deployments, Alley points out, especially when the
chaplains themselves are deployed. NAMB endorses 1,051 chaplains in all
branches of the military, including 450 active duty.
Educate your church on issues that accompany deployment. "The average
churchgoer who isn't close to a military family may be unaware of the
challenges they face," Marna Parker says.
Provide a network of emotional support. The Military Wives
Encouragement Group at FBCN meets monthly to give military wives an opportunity
to interact and hear from guest speakers who address their concerns. "We try to
give a platform for them to come and share and be supported-to feel like
they're not the only ones struggling with their husband being gone, thinking,
'Am I the only one whose refrigerator fell apart as soon as my husband left
town?'" Kush says.
Offer practical help. Yard work is a challenge for mothers with
preschoolers. Car repairs may become crisis points. When Kush's husband left
for a year-long deployment she needed the services of a plumber, electrician
and handyman-all within 48 hours. Fortunately, she found them through her
Give spiritual support. Pray for the deployed and their families, and let
them know you're thinking of them. "Know that they might break down and cry,"
Kush says, "but just be Jesus with skin on, and let them know that you do lift
them up in prayer."
anxietyAlthough most people acknowledge that the families
of deployed military make huge sacrifices, we're not always quick to recognize
the small ones. For example, Marna Parker's husband, an Air Force major
stationed at Fort McPherson, Georgia, has been deployed three times, twice to
Saudi Arabia and once to Qatar. None of the deployments lasted longer than four
months, seemingly short stints-until you take a hard look at how much can
happen in four months. During two of those separations the Parkers were
expecting a child, and her husband missed out on pregnancy months with both
His absence also created a companionship void for his wife. "The very first
time he was gone was a very lonely time," Marna says. Newly assigned to their
base, she hadn't had an opportunity to make many friends before his first
Erica Good, 17, of Montgomery, Alabama, was 12 when her father, an Air Force
reservist, spent six months in Oman. She recalled that he missed Thanksgiving
that year and wasn't there to celebrate her birthday. Good's parents divorced
four years after her father's deployment. Her mother, Rudona Good, believes the
long separation weakened the marriage and became a turning point, the beginning
of its end. "It was really hard not having a father for six months," Erica
says. "Now I'm used to that."
Families who know their loved ones may be in harm's way grapple with added
stress, fueled by intense media coverage, says Michael Husfelt, senior
Protestant chaplain, 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in
Aside from these emotional aspects, the practical considerations also create
problems that can't be ignored. "The life of a family doesn't stop," Husfelt
says, "and yet the mom or the dad's not there."
Families often must transform overnight into single-parent households with
all the complications that entails, including childcare. Women find themselves
doing jobs their husbands previously managed, like yard work or handling
finances. And men transform into Mr. Mom.
The problems they bring
Once a deployment has ended, however, families may feel the effects long after
their loved one returns. "There's a lot of stress that goes with the
re-integration process," says Will Alley, military minister for First Baptist
Church in Belton, Texas. The church, located near Fort Hood, has 20 members
deployed. After "they get through that honeymoon period" of their reunion, a
husband and wife may struggle to re-adjust to their roles, according to Alley.
A spouse who has been deployed may expect to take over the duties he or she had
to abandon, but the spouse who took on those roles may not be willing to give
"The re-integration can be traumatic, particularly with the husband who has
seen brutal combat," says Bill Graham, associate pastor for missions and
military at First Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee. Problems such as
nightmares and difficulty sleeping are common in such cases, according to
Graham. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating, and churches
should be educated on how to minister in such cases. Although dealing
clinically with PTSD requires special training, Will Alley believes it can be
addressed spiritually. Church members willing to pray for and walk alongside
victims and their families can offer support and comfort.
Not all deployments are negative experiences, as Alley can attest. His own
deployment to Baghdad, his "wilderness experience," culminated in a call to
ministry, specifically chaplaincy. Alley recognized the need for more chaplains
as soon as he got to Iraq-there wasn't one there. By the time he returned home
he understood what God was calling him to do. While preparing for that role,
he's been working through his church to mobilize others for military ministry
as well. "There's such a need for the local churches to step in and take care
of the family."
Standing in the gap
Recognizing that a post 9-11 surge in deployments has created something of a
spiritual crisis, churches are becoming increasingly sensitive to the need to
minister to those left behind. For example, Gary Sanders serves as minister of
military missions at First Baptist Church of Norfolk (FBCN), Virginia, a
position created two years ago as a response to the spiritual needs of the
Already focused on military in the church and the community, FBCN has
embraced an even bigger vision. "We're trying to build a prototype of ministry
to the military that can be expanded to other churches," Sanders says.
"Churches do minister to military people, but they don't minister as
intentionally or strategically as maybe they need to."
To help with that, Sanders formed the Military Missions Network (miltarymissionsnetwork.com), an alliance of churches, chaplains
and ministries. "There's a movement of people doing military missions
intentionally through the local church," he says. The motivation behind it is
to move beyond simple ministry to a purposeful mission. "People are waking up
and realizing the world is a dangerous place," Sanders says. Therefore,
military men and women need to be as spiritually fit as they are physically.
"We've got to prepare our military."
Multiple rather than single deployments are compounding the problem,
according to Sanders, making the need critical and immediate. "We've got to
mobilize our churches across the country," he says. "The problem is massive."
To help with this, FBCN recently hosted The Flagship Church Conference, billed
as a gathering of "mentor-type churches desiring excellence in military
missions and ministry" to discuss and teach best practices.
Sanders identified two key types of churches involved in military ministry.
The first is the military-friendly church. This is the church that loves and
welcomes the military, recognizing the value of military personnel as
co-laborers and church leaders. Many churches fit into the military-friendly
mold, according to Sanders, and do a lot of good things "haphazardly."
The other is the military-focused church. This church focuses on military
for missions and ministry as an intentional strategy in its vision, embracing
the theory that a well-discipled military man or woman will extend
Christianity's influence in the world.
Sanders encourages churches to turn military ministry into a focused
mission. "If you're going to minister to military families, why not do it
For more information about how your church can mobilize for ministry
Kima Jude is a writer living in Beavercreek,
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC