SBC Life Articles

Ministry to the Deployed and Their Families

During the past several months, thousands of military personnel have deployed overseas. As more prepare to follow, there are concrete ways in which your church can help the families of the deployed soldier. I know, because two years ago I was on the receiving end of that help.

With my deployment scheduled a few days after Thanksgiving, our family spent the weekend stuffing turkey and exchanging Christmas gifts. Though Thanksgiving was short of its usual thankfulness, we were grateful to God for the church family who rallied behind us.

Their encouragement toward me began with a dedication service two weeks prior to my departure. Our senior chaplain laid hands on the heads of each family member and prayed for them by name. Chapel members echoed prayers responsively.

After the service, there was a pizza fellowship held in our honor. Sunday School kids presented a banner proclaiming their prayers, wishes, and love. Their love for us was demonstrative, but also allowed us our private time.

On the day I left for the airport, I felt the tension between my ready spirit and my aching heart. Chapel members anticipated that tension and met me at the airport with waving flags. After a few hugs and prayers, they left quickly so as to allow goodbye time with my family.

Once in Saudi Arabia, my chapel mounted a campaign of care and prayer. Email poured in with offers to help do anything I may have forgotten at home. The offers of help avoided the cliché, "Let me know IF there's anything I can do," by specifically asking, "What needs to be done?"

Members emailed pictures of my family at chapel events to remind me of my family's strength and resourcefulness. The notes sent from WWII vets thanking me for serving humbled me. Care packages sent with toiletries or brownies never lost their ability to boost morale.

Notes from my senior chaplain constantly reminded me that he was praying that God would encourage my heart and keep me from all harm and temptations. I knew what he meant by that last word. Deployed life is fraught with temptations.

Meanwhile at home, chapel support for my family was unwavering. My wife wrote to tell me how the men's group offered constant help. Once, when my wife hesitated to bother the men with a weeklong mechanical problem, the men lovingly scolded her for not calling sooner and teasingly made her promise to mend her independent ways.

They were not sexist in assuming that my wife needed help with traditional male chores, but they focused on helping with the jobs that I had previously done. Their offers of help recognized that my wife was doing double the chores and could use help.

Chapel members made sure temptations were minimized on my home front, too. No visits were ever made by unaccompanied men. My mind was eased to hear my wife report that "John and Betty came for a visit." Or when the men's group fixed something, she was able to write that "John, Joe, and Jim fixed the shower head."

The best thing chapel members did was to provide occasional child care. My wife taught school and these respites allowed her study time, prayer time, rejuvenation, and even some recreation. They also provided social outlets for my children.

In writing this article, my wife mentioned one thing she would add to a care plan for the spouse of a deployed member — adult conversation. After I was home a few days, my wife realized that she had missed good adult conversation. So on the subsequent deployment of other chapel members, she made sure to invite the family for a pool party where the children played and we talked to the spouse left behind.

Our chapel implemented a remarkable strategy of caring for me and my family and it showed no sign of slowing when I returned. They sent a welcome basket, provided more child care, and gave us privacy for the next ten days.

When I did return to the chapel, I was welcomed back into the family of God with a prayer time and more hugs than I can ever remember getting on one day. It was Thanksgiving all over again!

How You Can Help

If your church has no direct contact with military personnel, you can still help.

• Get the names of deployed personnel and write personal letters or send shoebox care packages. (Letters to "any service member" have lost their originality and the Red Cross is inundated with them.) Network with church members, churches in your association, or a military chapel to gain the names of deployed people.

• Designate an offering to the Military Chaplaincy division of NAMB for ministry to deployed troops or their families.

• Unfortunately, the governments of bases in Middle East locations will not allow the import of religious literature intended for evangelizing. Ignoring this rule can foil its witnessing intent by causing the disruption of regular mail delivery.

For further information, contact the chaplains at your nearest military base, the American Red Cross, or the Chaplaincy department in the Evangelism Division of the North American Mission Board at www.namb.net.

    About the Author

  • Norris Burkes