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Churches near Fort Campbell rally to help deployed soldiers’ families

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Fort Campbell, home to several Army groups including the 5th Special Forces Group, has a “symbiotic relationship” with Clarksville, Tenn., said Jeff Burris, pastor of First Baptist Church in St. Bethlehem, located near Clarksville and Fort Campbell, Ky. “It’s not the lifeblood of Clarksville, but it may be the heart.”

The Clarksville church certainly has been affected by America’s war on terrorism. Sunday school teacher Shawna Prosser recently learned her husband, Staff Sgt. Brian C. Prosser, 28, was killed in Afghanistan. Prosser was one of three soldiers based at Fort Campbell who were killed Dec. 5.

Burris reported Prosser is doing “as good as can be expected.” She attended the morning worship service the Sunday after she learned about the death of her husband. With her, filling nearly two pews, were family members and friends. A military memorial service was held at Fort Campbell Dec. 10.

She is being ministered to, as are several other church families who have deployed members, by church members, Burris said. Ministry at the church is done mainly through relationships developed in Sunday school classes, he explained.

“There’s a whole church that would do anything in the world for her,” he added, noting that everyone in the church has been impacted emotionally by the war.

The church, which is located some distance from the post, has about 20 percent of its active families related to the Army installation. To support those families during Christmas, other families of the church are hosting them for Christmas activities.

And church families will continue to support the military families as long as needed, said Burris.

Maplewood Baptist Church, which is located near the Army post, has been impacted “tremendously” by the war, said pastor Bruce Pettitt.

The church’s chairman of deacons and about six other members have been deployed while those still at the post are working long hours. About 70 percent of church members are members of military families.

During a recent Wednesday evening prayer service, church members were thanking God for the safety of soldiers who are part of the congregation when a soldier’s wife received a phone call in which she learned her husband was injured.

Thankfully, he is going to be fine, Pettitt said.

“When we watch CNN, it’s a little more personal to us. We have names and faces in our minds when we see faces there” in the war zone, said Pettitt, who served for six years in the Army.

To support families when a bad report is received, Pettitt said, “You hold your breath. Then we contact family members and they wait for a phone call.”

The church as a whole has reached out to military families. Maplewood’s Brotherhood held a luncheon recently for those with members deployed and drew about 50 people. The church also has received food baskets from Stonebrook Baptist Church in Nashville and letters from students which they are distributing.

Pettitt said the war experience has brought a new perspective on the need for evangelism. He asked Baptists to pray for “their Christian brothers” who are serving, their families and the “pastors of military churches who have a lot of ministry opportunities right now.”

Despite all of the trauma, God is “still being glorified,” Pettitt said. “It’s amazing.”

Willie Freeman, pastor of Greater Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, who retired from the Army after serving 21 years, said although the military community is a close one which helps its members, churches can have a role in helping these families. Greater Missionary is working to “ensure that they are being taken care of in times like these.”

About 50 percent of the church’s members are related to Fort Campbell and about six families have members who are deployed.

Each of those families have three pastors of the church and three deacons who check on them each week. The church leaders will make sure the military families have a good Christmas, he added.

Another way the church has helped families is by church members keeping the children of military families whose fathers and mothers are away from home at the same time. A church family kept some children in that situation recently for about a week. Church families are willing to do that for military families and for more extended periods of time, Freeman said.

Thankfully, the military community and churches are better prepared for this war because of the Persian Gulf War, Freeman said.

Generally, military families need a “family that they can turn to” because they are away from their extended families, he noted. They are often moving to a new place, getting adjusted, and dealing with other problems.

One measure of their needs is that many military families at Greater Missionary have adopted Freeman and his wife, Jo Ellen, as their “parents.”

Greater Missionary members also offer help to families in the areas of finances, transportation, jobs, home and car repair, expectant mothers, mentoring and prayer.

Churches can target these needs of people or others and, thus, reach them for God, said Freeman.

First Baptist Church, Clarksville, has about 48 families whose members are deployed, reported Bill Graham, associate pastor for missions and ministries. Some are deployed in the war on terrorism and others are serving in Kosovo or Korea.

The church, which was featured on the CBS Evening News recently after several soldiers based at Fort Campbell were killed and injured, has had special prayer times for military families.

On Dec. 16 the church had a meeting for family members which drew about 50. The wife of a deployed soldier spoke on dealing with the experience. Names of family members are not released to protect them, Graham, a retired Army Reserve chaplain who served 25 years, said.

Other participants at the meeting also shared good ideas on ways to deal with the experience, Graham reported.

Many of the family members are in a new place experiencing their first deployment and first war, he noted. “They have a lot of feelings and they think they’re the only ones to have those feelings.”

During the meeting, a program also was offered to help youth cope. Also, family members were introduced to church members who will provide home and car repairs, Graham said.

For Christmas, an adopt-a-family project will be offered to the military families.

Another meeting of military family members will be held in January. And ongoing spiritual help will be made available to the families, he said.

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  • Connie Davis