Over the past two years, tens of thousands of soldiers have come home from war ... to heal from wounds both visible and invisible, to face unemployment, a lack of housing and other domestic challenges.
"Now is the time to give back," the Rethink Church website says. "Raise awareness in your community, and do something to address the needs of veterans and military families."
Rethink Church, part of United Methodist Communications, is lining up 250 volunteer leaders to coordinate events and 6,500 volunteers to participate in a variety of outreach opportunities on Jan 20.
Congregations in 10 states sign up
New Providence's event is slated for Jan. 11, and the goal is to equip and offer resources to train additional volunteers to work with members of the military and their families. Workshops will:
- Expose area ministry representatives to the agencies and resources available on post
- Provide training and information about children and family issues surrounding deployment, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury
- Offer networking opportunities for agencies and ministries
- Invite participants to continue the conversation by sharing obstacles they encounter when trying to minister with this demographic
Along with New Providence Church, United Methodist congregations in Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin have registered events with Rethink Church.
In Hawaii, the Aiea United Methodist Church community will host a fellowship barbecue to honor those who have served and continue to serve. Two Indiana congregations - Redkey and Mount Tabor, Dunkirk - will present $5 McDonald's meal cards to the first 300 veterans or active soldiers who attend their Jan. 19 event. Throughout the new year, Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Worcester, Mass., will reconnect veterans with their community through outreach and support. The goal is to help troops make the transition back into everyday living.
A training event is on the agenda for St. Paul United Methodist Church, Hattiesburg, Miss. The activity will nurture communication skills and encourage respect for all people. In Cameron, N.C., the congregation of Solid Rock United Methodist Church will gather for a Sunday meal to share ways members can make a difference through economic empowerment, support for families of active-duty military, emergency aid and improving community well-being. New Washington United Methodist Church in Ohio will hold a series of events on Jan. 27 to affirm and support returning troops and their families and to raise awareness of the challenges they face.
Three congregations - Waverly and Willow Grove in Pennsylvania and Columbus in Wisconsin - plan special meals open to the community. Freewill offerings will assist veterans and military families. Preparing for future service projects with military families is on the docket for St. George's United Methodist Church, Fairfax, Va.
'It's what God calls us to do'
Ways to support military families
1. Celebrate birthdays of soldiers and their family members. Have a birthday party for a child whose parent is deployed.
2. Have a churchwide holiday meal. It's a great way to build a sense of family, especially for those whose loved ones are miles away and for newly returned soldiers.
3. Open church activities to military families. Bible studies, Sunday school classes and youth groups acquaint newcomers with longtime members and give military families a safe place to share their stories. "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon - Ministering to Returning Combat Veterans," a Bible study available from Cokesbury is a great place to start.
4. Provide free babysitting for children in military families, both during and after deployment. Give a sole caregiver a break or a reunited couple a night out.
Remember simple things such as a weekly phone call to ask how things are going and to offer a listening ear.
5. Send care packages to active troops. Letters, drawings and photos from the church family are fun and easy to do. It's a wonderful way to involve children.
Reaching out to the military is "as easy as loving your own family," said Donna Markel, who chairs the Eagle's Wings project at New Providence Church. "It's hard enough for a soldier not to be there, but to know that someone's wrapped their arms around their family back home and is with them is just a tremendous thing."
Bill Wheeler, an Eagle's Wings sponsor and the congregation's lay leader, entered the Army in 1953 during the Korean conflict. He retired in 1974. "We sponsor those families to show our love and appreciation to the soldiers that serve our country," he explained.
Catherine Leigh Harwell is married to a military police officer. She believes something as simple as cooking a meal for a military family so the spouse doesn't have to make another McDonald's run is a true gift. "Just something as small as that," she said, "will drag more people in the (church) door than you can even imagine."
The Rev. Billy Joe "B.J." Brack, who serves the Clarksville congregation, added, "I think it's what God calls us to do. We're supposed to be opening our doors to whoever's out there. And if you're around a military base, these people ... have hurts and pains.
"We're all in this together."
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].