[Continued from November 20, 2008; see below.] All throughout our conversation, U.S. Army Chaplain James (Lt. Col.) Carter (U.S. Army Chaplain (Multi-National Division – Baghdad and 4th Infantry Division) kept coming back to the service members’ families back home. He explained to me several ways that churches and individual Christians can help support and minister to U.S. military personnel serving overseas, even if they don’t know anyone there personally.
Not surprisingly, this church leader recommended that individual American Christians work with their local churches.
“It all starts with relationships, so the best thing to do is for people to work with their local churches,” he says. “A local church can sponsor individual service members, or a squad or platoon.
With all of the reserve and National Guard units involved in this conflict, nearly every church in America has someone in its congregation with a relative or friend who has served, is serving or will serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. (The fact that both of our recent vice presidential candidates had sons headed to Iraq points to the commonality of this experience.) Chaplain Carter says that those are the logical starting points for how to find service personnel to whom the minister.
“Get the names of the service members who would like to hear from members of the church. Write them letters… send them books and supplies… flood them with birthday cards and candy that they like… and pray for them.
Here is a well-written article about what kind of care packages to send to service personnel in Iraq (or other places).
He says to do the same kinds of things for the service member’s spouses and children back home. “Fifty percent of our military personnel are married,” he says. “Some of these guys are on their third combat tour in five years and half of them are on their second tour. That means that some of them have spent 27 of the past 39 months in combat [zones]. That is a major stress for those back home to have their loved ones ‘down range.’
“It is a huge relief on these guys to know that their loved ones are being cared for at home. Make sure their spouses are cared for and that their kids get birthday and Christmas presents. These de facto single parents are the real heroes. Dad [or Mom] is deployed, so they are left caring for the kids, doing the car maintenance, keeping the grades up and all the rest. Let them know that they are loved and appreciated for their sacrifices and for what their soldier is doing. They are the ones saying, ‘I will trust my husband [or wife] with you.’”
Churches can also minister to those who were wounded. “The wounded warrior ministry is huge,” he says.
Churches that are near military installations or hospitals can invite unit and base chaplains to come and speak to their congregations for a few minutes on a Sunday morning about ministering to service personnel. Invite them to bring soldiers with them who have been overseas and impacted by chaplains' ministries to share with the congregation.
“And realize, also, that many of our chaplains are on their second tour of duty, as well,” Chaplain Carter continues. “Many chaplains come into the military a little older than traditional service members, and that going to Iraq is often a second placement in a second career. Compassion and ministry fatigue can be very are real, so it is important to minister to the ministers. And a good place for a church to start may be with its own denomination’s chaplains.”
A congregation’s veterans may be the perfect group to coordinate this type of ministry that Chaplain Carter describes. That group will find it easier than non-veterans to coordinate relationships with active military personnel, as they can often “speak the same language” and relate to one another’s experiences. “However, anyone who is given access to soldiers’ personal information will probably need to first pass a background check,” Chaplain Carder explains.
“Right now, we are deeply blessed,” concludes Chaplain Carter. God is working. The battlefield is much calmer. That means that chaplains can navigate around the battlefield much better. And Major General Jeff Hammond [Commanding General of the 4th Infantry Division] is committed to the chaplains’ consistency and our troops’ spiritual fitness.”
Please consider seeking out service members who might be in harm’s way to love on with Christ’s love as they serve our nation and defend our values and way of life.