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Churches near military bases ready to minister to families

MINOT, N.D. (BP)–With nearly 90 percent of his congregation made up of military personnel, North Hill Baptist Church pastor John Sneed said the military high alert status has made a “big impact on our church families.”

Located about eight miles from Minot Air Force Base, North Hill Baptist Church has about 167 members, mostly military personnel relocated from southern states.

Minot is one of a number of military installations that will be deployed in the response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and western Pennsylvania.

The first B-1 bombers and B-52s will be leaving from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Minot is one of two B-52 bases in the country.

“There is some tenseness here among the people,” Sneed told Baptist Press. “We’ve been on a high state of alert and it takes an average of three hours to get onto the base. Sometimes, the traffic backs up three to four miles.”

Sneed said the soldiers are ready to go. “This is what they’ve trained for,” he said. “They are enthusiastic.”

Sneed, who served in the Air Force for 20 years, said their church is gearing up for ministry opportunities once the deployment is underway.

“We’re creating support groups that will meet for young military wives,” Sneed said. “Some of the older military wives will walk them through what happens during a deployment and the arrangements that need to be made. A lot of the younger guys never considered this and it’s important for the wives to be able to keep the families running during the deployment.

“Some of the wives are afraid,” the pastor said. “The think their husbands are literally going to be dropped off and will face the bad guys shooting at them. So we are trying to provide them with information in this gap. We’re also teaching the younger guys that they need to be in contact with their families.”

Military children, on the other hand, are taking the deployment in stride, Sneed said.

“The kids are in good spirits,” he said. “They are doing better than some of the spouses. The younger kids think it’s an adventure.”

Teenagers, though, have become quieter, he said.

“The teenagers know what we have to do as a country and they are trying to be supportive of their parents,” Sneed said. “But there is some fear there. They are afraid but at the same time they are trying to be reflective.”

Lt. David Faggard at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash., confirmed to CNN that the base is “moving aircraft and moving troops.” He said several KC-135s have taken off, but would not talk about their specific mission or confirm that the destination is overseas.

Mark Howard, associate pastor of Crossover Baptist Church in Spokane, said the area is buzzing with activity.

“It’s been an interesting time here,” Howard told Baptist Press. “We have had some good ministry going on, but it has been difficult.”

Crossover will expand its ministry to the families of those left behind, Howard said.

“This is primarily affecting the pilots and I think that contact is the most important thing we can do,” he said.

“I know that military families tend to feel isolated,” Howard said. “So we make sure that our church family reaches out with contacts, phone calls, visits. In one case, we have one large family and people will take their kids for the day so mom can have a break.

“We want to let them know we care,” Howard said. “When they are on high alert, they don’t know where their husbands are and we make an effort to let them know they are not alone.”

Likewise, Sneed said his church is a place where people can come for comfort and friendship. “It is a refuge for our military families,” the North Dakota pastor said.

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  • Todd Starnes