Providing Hope When Hope Seems
By Norris Burkes
-- 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
for us. Their love for us was demonstrative, but also allowed us our private
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 theres 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
familys 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 mens 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
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 mens 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
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!
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
or the American Red Cross or call the Chaplaincy department in the Evangelism
Division of the North American Mission Board.
For more information about Norris Burkes please log onto his website at
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