News Articles

Churches reach out to families of deployed soldiers

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (BP)–For some, it’s as simple as fixing a broken toilet or lawn mower.

For others, it’s holding a monthly dinner where spouses can take a break and share feelings. Or calling them regularly to offer words of comfort and encouragement.

However, when Hillcrest Baptist Church formed its outreach to military families last August, former chairperson Lillie Dearman didn’t know it would take such a personal twist. Along with thousands of other soldiers, her husband, Eddie, left Fort Campbell March 1 for the Middle East.

Left with two teenage daughters to care for and their plans of retirement this fall on hold, Dearman finds herself in the toughest struggle of their Army career.

“We’re just now getting out of the shock phase of deployment,” said Dearman, who serves as church secretary for the Hopkinsville, Ky., congregation. “This is the hardest time I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it’s because the girls are older, or because we were getting ready to retire, or because of Desert Storm and the fears are higher.

“I think it’s a combination of things. I talked to two other wives and their feelings are the same. I empathize with younger wives because I know what they’re going through.”

Though she originally directed the effort, Dearman stepped aside recently. Retired Navy seaman Darwin Marshall now chairs the ministry, known as “SOSaf” (Support Our Service members and families.)

The effort received a boost recently when a Sunday School class raised $300 in a special offering. Among other things, it helped pay the costs of repairing a military wife’s toilet a few days earlier.

“I thought, ‘God is awesome because we needed money to fix that lady’s toilet,'” Dearman said. “When my husband was [in a lower rank], everything would break when he was gone and I could never afford to get it fixed.”

Though taking a lower profile, Dearman still participates in the ministry. Each week, she calls at least three spouses from among the 30 military families involved in Hillcrest.

Once a month, she is on the receiving end of a deacon program that treats each military family to a restaurant meal.

Besides such practical steps, Dearman lists prayer as the leading priority for Southern Baptist churches that want to support America’s troops. Hillcrest does that through prayer groups that meet on Monday and Saturday mornings. On March 12, the congregation devoted its entire midweek service to praying for soldiers.

Beyond that, Dearman gathers support from Gateway Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where her brother is minister of music. Her husband’s name was one of 50 placed on the stars in the American flag there, with various members committing to pray daily for the soldiers.

When she arises each morning to pray for her husband, Lillie can sense that intercession.

“I don’t think there’s words to say what it means,” she said. “I can almost feel that others have his name and someone else is praying for him. It’s a powerful thing.”

A Southern Baptist pastor who recently served as a chaplain for the Air National Guard says prayer is not only powerful, but people are increasingly receptive to it.

Tom Curry, pastor of Parkland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., was called up for 15 days during the first part of March to minister to trainees headed to the Middle East.

He encountered no objections to public prayers, with people open to giving prayer requests, receiving Bibles and discussing spiritual topics.

Curry prayed daily with enlistees and family members and during staff meetings. During prayer circles, the Louisville pastor observed constant hand holding, tears and hugs as relatives “let go” of their loved ones.

“The spiritual quest goes up early out here,” said Curry, a veteran of 17 years in the Guard. “Ten airplane flights left [over the course of] two weeks and my commander asked me to pray every time one left. We had a battle staff meeting once or twice a day and he asked me to pray before every one of them.”

Many of the 300-plus Air Force crew who trained for the war left with New Testaments provided by the Gideons and Scripture-based encouragement cards prepared by an elderly women’s group at Parkland Baptist.

The group customarily prepares them — using construction paper and used greeting cards — for patients at Louisville’s Baptist East Hospital.

“I call them a free ticket to heaven,” Curry said. “As they were walking out the door, many of them would open their pocket and say, ‘Look, pastor, I’ve got my free ticket to heaven.’

“It opens the door for further ministry. If you can get ’em to read the Scripture, they may sit down and read that green Bible in their pocket.”

The pastor also offered solace to the family of a troubled individual who committed suicide three days after Curry arrived. Although he didn’t conduct the funeral, Curry attended to help comfort the family.

The night President Bush addressed the nation and issued his pre-war ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, the pastor tended to a member of his church.

He and a deacon went to visit a family whose son, a Marine, has been stationed on the front lines in Kuwait.

“The mother was emotional and crying,” Curry said. “She needed a hug and a prayer. We’ve got to remember our own church members who have relatives deployed, as well as the Guard. This is involving a lot of people. We’ve never had this many people deployed in any kind of conflict, ever.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker