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Chaplains offer ideas for churches in ministering to military families

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–With loved ones thousands of miles away on an aircraft carrier or camping in the desert, families of U.S. forces are facing more than their share of stress these days. And while the military offers much help, many opportunities for churches remain for ministering to families both within and without their congregations.

Several Southern Baptist chaplains said the needs are particularly significant for families of National Guard and Reserve soldiers who often are far from their bases and unaccustomed to the pressures of extended separation and other stresses on families.

“When I personally talk to guard and reserve soldiers they say, ‘Well, chaplain, there’s not much back home for my family,'” said Maj. Ron Thomas, a U.S. Army chaplain based at Fort Drum, N.Y. “For active duty, that’s a different story; we’ve got it covered.”

For many churches it is as simple as being aware of the needs of military families within the congregation and within the circle of influence of their members.

“Churches are doing everything from potentially having particular members saying, ‘We’ll keep your kids for a little while to prayer support,” said Maj. Mickey Foxworth, garrison chaplain for Hunter Army Airfield at Fort Stewart, Ga.

“We’ve got several families where the wife may be pregnant and they need someone to drive,” Foxworth also noted.

It is often important just to check up on families in much the same manner that Sunday School groups would normally care for members of their classes.

“There’s a sense of being overwhelmed,” Foxworth said. “And when you’re overwhelmed you find it hard to reach out for help.”

During wartime, however, there are occasions when chaplains’ schedules are filled long before the needs for counseling and other assistance are met, Foxworth said.

“When soldiers have been gone for a while, invariably something’s going to break. That’s one area that we try to look at what resources are available from outside, and find churches who are willing to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got people who can help.'”

While churches can call chaplains’ offices directly to offer help, he suggested working together through a single point of contact like a Baptist associational director of missions.

Dave Mullis, the North American Mission Board’s military chaplaincy associate, suggested additional ministry opportunities for churches. Among them:

— Churches should know details of military affiliations of their members so they can be ready to assist, particularly in the case of death of one or more family members.

— While support groups might be helpful for military families, they should be focused on positive activities such as games, movies, craft activities or picnics. “These are not therapy groups,” Mullis said. “Group leadership should be alert to persons having difficulties and know to whom they might refer the person for specialized care or counseling.”

— Repair assistance. “The joking phrase among military families is that as soon as the unit deploys the car or washing machine will break,” he said.

— Financial assistance may be needed, particularly when income suffers with the deployment of Guard and Reserve forces. But the answer is not always money. “A financial counselor who not only helps organize the finances but can intervene with creditors is helpful.”

— Adopt-a-family ministries work well, especially in the context of Bible study groups. “Prayer support, phone calls, child care, shared delivery of children to various activities, cards, yard and house maintenance are meaningful outreach tools,” Mullis said.

— “Care” packages from home to service members not only uplift the recipient but “speak loudly to their buddies in the unit,” he said. Video and audio tapes of services or cards and drawings from children’s activities are meaningful.
More of Mullis’ ideas on how to minister to families of servicemen and women, as well as other related resources, are available at www.lifeway.com/conflict.

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  • James Dotson