If you were following along with us last week, you saw Josh's Veterans Day all-call video. The ugly statistic the military often uses is that more veterans have died by suicide between 2005 and 2017 than troops that died in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined. Since 2020 began, active duty veterans alone have seen a 30% increase in suicides. Josh asked HOW WILL THE CHURCH RESPOND?
If your church has serve opportunities for music, kids, single moms, nursing homes, and substance abuse programs, then what is keeping your church from having a structured veteran ministry?
Usually, the issue is wedged between never really thinking about it and not knowing what to do. This is often an overwhelming place to start, but it's how every harvest field begins. As with most kingdom work, we have to look at the soul before we look at the stuff on a to-do list. Getting to know the needs of the people will always answer the question of "what do we do?"
So before we let our imaginations create hashtags and t-shirt fundraisers, consider the lives of these real-life situations first:
The female soldier that deploys every 18 months with three children at home.
The National Guard veteran that is going to school between drill weekends and deployments.
The mother who has a son in Afghanistan.
The former marine with post-traumatic stress struggling to find a job.
The Vietnam vet that is too old to mow his own grass.
If we took a minute to imagine a day in the life of any of these scenarios, we'd probably be able to think of a dozen ways to love on people like this. Imagine what we could do if we got to know them and gained their trust? Proverbs 22:9 (ESV) says, "Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor." As a military spouse, the bountiful eye of others is the only reason my family has been taken care of. Spouses, children, and veterans alike are programmed to soldier on through the worst of times. This creates a lifestyle of extreme independence and never asking for help. Just giving the few examples above, we now know we face a diverse demographic of people that need consistent help and support from the church.
So what can we do with this knowledge? Below is a quick and easy list of things any church can do regardless of the size of the congregation.
Survey the number of veterans in your congregation/workplace/immediate circle
Survey the number of parents and spouses of active duty service members + children missing their parents due to deployment cycles.
"Adopt" a platoon/company/unit by committing to sending care packages and letters during their deployment
Sending letters to basic trainees. Here's a not-so-well-known fact-- Did you know that there are countless young men and women that enlist in the military simply because they age out of the foster care system? Aging out basically makes them homeless which creates a domino effect of how they are able to maintain jobs in the US. Joining a branch of the military alleviates the need for a permanent address and access to transportation to work, but it also means that a basic trainee could go through three months of basic training and never receive a shred of mail and never leave post during a holiday.
Connect the military parents. If their child is married and is deployed to a combat zone, it is likely these parents are getting all of their information from their son/daughter-in-law instead of their own child. When Josh was deployed, we got two 15 minute phone calls a week after he had waited in line for an hour to use the phone. This hardly allows time to call parents, siblings, or friends. It's easy for worry, jealousy, and isolation to creep in. Get these parents together so they can support one another!
There are tons of other ideas that we could honestly just copy from a church in Virginia that has gotten most of it figured out. If you would like to see a well-run military structure, check out First Baptist Church of Norfolk.
(Josh is second from right on bottom row)
The great news is that you don't have to be in paid ministry to run something like this. You don't even need your pastor's permission! What we should remember, though, is that veterans come in every race, religion, gender, age, and background. They live and work among us in such a quiet, unnoticeable fashion, that we often make the mistake of thinking their needs are met, or their time of service doesn't effect them now, or that their marriage is fine.
Can we make people feel seen and appreciated without ever knowing what they go through? Of course we can. We do it all the time with cancer survivors, teachers during COVID, and even with prison ministry... we don't know the first thing about what it's like, we just know it's hard and that they need love. The Church needs to extend this love in an intentional way to those who serve our country. Just like Proverbs 3:27 says, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it." The Church needs to see itself as the bridge to freedom from veteran suicide, divorce rates, and substance abuse. Freedom in Christ cannot be found in the VA or some occasional free lunch for military spouses. We need year-round attention on these people that live in the shadows of this weird and lonely life. Pray for how your church can better serve those who served.
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 1 John 3:17
Quick sources to help understand ministry in the military:
Cru Military: https://crumilitary.org/about/who-we-are/
Military SFRS Ministry: https://www.militarysfrs.org/