LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–On a foggy Sunday in early February, hundreds of families gathered to welcome home the 2123rd HET (Heavy Equipment Transport) National Guard unit from their tour of duty in Iraq.
A band played as flags waved, and the crowd cheered as soldiers emerged from planes to sometimes tearful reunions with family members and friends at Standiford Field in Louisville, Ky.
Among the family members was Marian Frisby. Her husband, Larry, pastor of Freedom Baptist Church in Campbellsville, Ky., was back home preaching in the Sunday morning worship service. Nevertheless, the Frisbys -– Marian in Louisville and Larry in Campbellsville –- were eagerly awaiting the arrival of not one, but two of their three children.
The Frisbys’ son, James, and one of their daughters, Stephanie Allen, were both called into active duty with the National Guard unit in January 2004. James left immediately and Stephanie joined the unit in July.
Their return on Feb. 6 brought to a close a year that both challenged and strengthened the faith of Marian and Larry.
Not long after James had deployed to Iraq, his vehicle drove over an improvised explosive device (IED).
“Thankfully the IED was pointed the wrong direction,” Larry said. “When you hear that, you realize that you really need to pray for your children when they are over there.”
“When you hear something on the news, where a lot of soldiers have been killed that day,” Marian said, “you listen to the report.”
“Especially when it’s a convoy situation,” Larry added. “You listen and you wait for ‘em to call home and say, ‘It wasn’t us.’ When your kids are over there being shot at, it’s never comfortable.”
Marian told of a time when a convoy was involved in a serious fight and the insurgents, though using a large amount of weaponry, hit absolutely nothing.
“There wasn’t even a scratch on the truck,” Marian said. “I just consider that God’s hand of protection. Even though they have had some close calls, we’ve definitely seen that God’s with them.”
James and Stephanie’s absence led to some changes for all of the Frisby family. Stephanie had to leave behind her 9-month-old son, Kaden, and her husband, Mace. Mace’s job requires long hours, and Marian’s job requires travel, so Larry spent a lot of time caring for his grandson. Sarah, the Frisbys’ youngest daughter, also juggled work and college with watching Kaden.
“I think the thing that bothers me the most is Kaden – him being so young when they left. I was there the day that James left and I watched a mother hand her child over to the dad while she got on the truck. That was pretty tough,” Larry said. “I wasn’t on the base when I would have had to watch Stephanie hand Kaden over to Mace.”
He added, “That was sort of heart-wrenching –- to know that she was going to miss his first birthday.”
Both Larry and Marian hoped that Kaden would recognize Stephanie when she returned home.
“I am praying that he won’t be afraid of her because that would break Stephanie’s heart. He has a picture of her and he kisses it ‘good night’ and we have pictures of her in our house and we point to them and say, ‘This is Mommy,’” Marian said. “We hope that somewhere the connection will be made.”
As a pastor, part of Larry’s calling is to offer comfort to others in times of need. However, during the time that James and Stephanie were overseas the people of the church came together to provide support.
“People have offered to help. People have sent gifts and cards to them,” Marian said. “Several people have communicated through e-mail with James and Stephanie.”
The care and support came even from beyond their congregation. First Baptist Church of Whitley City, where the Frisby family served previously, and First Baptist Church of Richmond, Ky., where James is a member, were very supportive. Larry said he knew people were praying for his children daily.
“I know that beyond the shadow of a doubt,” he said. “It’s good to know that your Christian family is praying for them.”
Both Larry and Marian reiterated how they relied on God throughout their children’s deployment.
“There are many facets of His grace in our lives and this is just another way you can rely upon His strength and His grace to sustain you,” Larry said.
“There are Christians, parents all across America who are trusting God for grace,” he continued. “And there are some that have to lean upon His grace when they lose their loved one.”
“Having that relationship with God before they go definitely helps,” Marian said, “because I don’t think anybody could say or do anything to put your mind at ease, but God can.”
“Certainly having had a long-term relationship with Jesus Christ has made it a lot easier for me,” Larry said. “You can look back on things where you’ve been able to trust the Lord and He has not let you down. He has never once, ever failed us. I’m not saying everything has been great for us, but even in the bad situations God has been there to carry us through.”
As he awaited his children’s return, Larry expressed concern and compassion for the families of a National Guard unit in Campbellsville that had been deployed recently.
“My heart goes out to the unit here and their families. Mine is coming to an end and their time is just beginning,” Larry said.
Jonathan Johnston is a writer and photographer in the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s communications department.