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Christians urged to support military families

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (BP)–A young woman gets the call on a Friday from the Army, and five days later she’s saying good-bye to her children for possibly a year. She’s trained in the reserves for years and now this mom is being deployed.

As deputy staff chaplain of the 88th Regional Support Command at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, Army Reserve Chaplain Lt. Col. Scott Boyd has watched this and similar heart-tugging farewells repeated by one family after another. Boyd, pastor of Temple Baptist of Champaign, has been involved in the deployment of two Army Reserve units in Illinois.

“It was nothing like I ever experienced before,” Boyd said. “It’s almost like dying when they’re saying good-bye” because they realize that there’s always a chance that their loved ones might not come back.

Reserve units and the National Guard constitute more than half of the United States’ armed forces. Many have been summoned to active duty since the American military began pummeling Afghanistan to ferret out Osama bin Laden and other alleged terrorist masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City, western Pennsylvania and Washington, that claimed nearly 4,000 lives.

For many reservists, Boyd said, it’s not a matter of if they are going, but when they’ll be called up. They will leave behind spouses who must abruptly become single parents. If both parents are activated, they must send their children to their grandparents or other caregivers.

And those hurting families, coming to terms with their indefinite separations, represent an opportunity for ministry for churches. “This is not a church-growth thing,” Boyd explained. “This is a ministry if churches feel called of God to do it.” And it’s a ministry that requires a long-term commitment because they’ll be connecting with families with little or no church ties and they’ll have ongoing needs even after they return home.

What are some of the struggles these families face? In the weeks following deployment, Boyd said, those spouses left behind will battle loneliness. If they’re parents, many wonder how they’ll raise their families without help from their spouses. Children often feel betrayed, and they don’t know “when their mommies and daddies are coming back.”

For those who have been deployed, some may wrestle with anger and believe that life has treated them unfairly. They worry about how their families will treat them when they return. Some must brace for financial hardships for their families because their pay in the reserves can be less than what they earned at their other jobs. Whether deployed or staying behind, the bottom line is this: Separation is painful.

“The military truly cares about the family, but the reality is the mission comes first. That’s the way it has to be,” Boyd said.

Still, Christians can play a significant role in helping these families, especially the ones in their own neighborhoods, to ease the stress that comes with the adjustments they face. An easy first step, Boys said, is to express your appreciation about the sacrifice they and their families have to make because their loved ones have left to serve our country. Many feel others do not truly understand their ordeal.

For military families in your neighborhood, you can volunteer to watch their children so the parent has time to go shopping, run other errands or just get a break, Boyd said. These families already face enough stress from the separation, he said. Offering to do some of the routine chores, such as shoveling snow or cutting grass, can ease their pressure. Let them know you’ll be available to help with car repairs or home maintenance if they need it.

You can help parents or spouses facing loneliness by inviting them to a men’s or women’s group at your church to help them develop other relationships, Boyd said.

Boyd mentors younger chaplains in a six-state region, and they work with each other to meet the spiritual needs of reservists as they’re being deployed and their families in the months to follow. It’s a challenge to connect with these families because they’re spread out across a vast region, and many of the chaplains, like Boyd, are church pastors.

“As chaplains, we have to be the spiritual guide for these soldiers,” he said. Many of these young men and women, because they are facing the possibility that they could be war casualties, are taking a hard look at eternal and spiritual issues.

For the chaplains, it’s a “ministry of presence,” Boyd said. They make themselves available to these soldiers during training in the days leading up to deployment. While some do not want to talk about spiritual matters, others do and will ask questions. “Because we’re with them,” he said, “we earn the right to speak about eternal issues.”

It’s a foregone conclusion that few, if any, of these reservists ever expected to be deployed when they first signed up. That’s why Boyd said he had expected to deal with sudden cases of conscientious objectors, but he has not encountered one instance of anyone trying to get out of their duty to serve their country.

Those examples of men and women ready to lay down their lives was an overwhelming thought as Boyd stood in the rain, saluting the reservists as they were shipped out. “I was expecting the worst and I saw the very best,” he said. “I was proud to be there.”

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  • Michael Leathers