Churches Become Heroes to Nation's Military Families

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NORFOLK, Va. -- Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military service men and women are deployed overseas, many of whom are on their third or fourth tour.
    
While many people enthusiastically support the troops, one group is often overlooked: their children.
    
Multiple deployments take a toll on the family. Children may live for months at a time without mom or dad -- something the Andersen family is all too familiar with.

"They understand that dad has a job that supports and defends the Constitution," U.S. Air Force Capt. Chris Andersen told CBN News.
    
Andersen just returned home from serving overseas. He's spending precious time with his wife Tonia and their four kids before the next deployment, just a few short months away.

"Our youngest is 4, and she will ask almost daily about what daddy is doing," Tonia said.

"It's very difficult because I would hear from my youngest one, 'Daddy, please don't go,'" Chris recalled.
    
Tonia told CBN News she notices subtle changes in her Children when their dad's away.

"They talk back more. They will just push the boundaries a little more with me," she revealed.

Churches to the Rescue
  
Military families face unique challenges. A recent study suggests during a parent's deployment, their teenage children are twice as likely to carry a weapon, join a gang or get into fights.

Experts say families should not have to deal with this issue alone.
    
Hampton Roads in southeastern Virginia is home to one of the country's largest military communities.
    
Consequently, churches there put a lot of time and resources into reaching out to these families.

"The closest thing to an extended family they have is the church," explained Gary Sanders, who oversees military missions for the First Baptist Church in Norfolk. "When we recognize military here, we always recognize families."

"True community in the church would mean that the Body of Christ -- those individuals, those families -- would take those families in and provide the things that they don't have because the dad is gone or the mom is gone," Sander said
   
The Andersen family is thankful for church support that helps to make their deployments work.

"I think it's very important from a mentoring aspect for the family to know they have someone they can go to if they need help," Andersen said.

"It just becomes so isolated when it's just you and your kids, to have help, to have people to come eat dinner with us or go and eat dinner with other people, so that we are not on our own," Tonia explained.
   
Parenting Alone

Last year, nearly 2 million children had at least one parent serving in the military. That means during deployments one parent is left to shoulder all the responsibility.   
    
Mike and Linda Montgomery, part of the group Military Ministry, work with churches and chaplains to help families during deployments. They also write Bible studies tailored for military families.
   
The couple explained that deployments are especially hard on the children.

"They are uprooted every two to three years, so they have to breakup with established friendship and try to establish new ones," Mike told CBN News.

"The men in the church, I believe, are responsible to help with these children too," Linda pointed out. "The older men especially can prove wisdom and help. The younger men can come alongside for the athletic events."

While Chris is away, he finds other Christian men to spend quality time with his sons like taking them to boy scouts.

"Some of the things that is important for dad to do, we are trying to make sure it's a father figure that's filling in a doing that," Tonia said.

Military outreach programs don't require big budgets, just a desire to recognize and meet the needs of the community.

"You don't even have to have a military ministry, but you at least need to have some strategies to address the unique needs and challenges," Sanders said.

"As soon as a military person or family walks into the church they are embraced with open arms," he added. "That's a simple thing and yet, some churches don't do that."

Asking for Help

"Most Christians want to help," Tonia told CBN News. "They just want to know how. So I would say just put yourself out there and learn how to ask for help. I had to learn how to ask for help."

That willingness to communicate about family issues can help improve the consequences of multiple deployments.
    
However, no matter how much planning and support is there -- during war, the whole family still sacrifices.

"It's my duty. It's what I'm called to do," Chris told CBN News. "It's what I signed up for, and it's what I believe in. So my kids, they get that from me and they understand."

How You Can Help:

Military Ministry

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