In time of war, caring for the families at home
SPOKANE, Wash. — With her husband in a war zone, Heather Bowden, a mother of four young boys, depends on her family for support.
Her church family.
“As Christians, our role is to care for members in our family, and that is exactly what they have done,” said Heather Bowden, whose husband, Air Force Capt. Jason Bowden, deployed to Afghanistan six months ago.
The Northside Church of Christ, about 30 minutes northeast of Fairchild Air Force Base, has an active military ministry, led by Lisa Clark and her husband, Joe, an Army major who retired in October after 22 years of service.
Lisa Clark — whose husband served a 15-month stint in Iraq before returning home in September 2007 — organized the ministry after the church’s list of service members needing prayers grew longer.
“It’s something that’s been on my heart the last couple of years,” said Clark, mother of Alexandria, 12; Rachel, 10; and Jolissa, 9.
When Clark asked for help, 33 of the church’s 250 members signed up. Some, like Val Naker, whose husband, George, is a retired Air Force technical sergeant, feel a special affinity for those who serve. Others, such as Dawn Abernathy, have no military background or loved one in harm’s way.
“I just want to show my gratitude for the price they pay,” said Abernathy, who signs greeting cards for soldiers and participated in a special church potluck for military families.
With the holiday season approaching, the ministry’s volunteers stuff stockings with Christmas goodies and ornaments for military personnel.
Church members also fill boxes with stuffed animals, toys and games for Afghan children — which Jason Bowden plans to distribute.
“Where he is, it’s pretty intense,” Northside minister Shawn Moore said of Jason Bowden. “He sends me e-mails from time to time, and it’s just nice for him” to receive gifts and greetings from his Christian brothers and sisters.
But the congregation’s outreach doesn’t stop with those thousands of miles from home.
Many times in churches, “there’s more support of the men and women that are deployed overseas than there is of their families left behind,” said Moore, whose brother, Army Lt. Col. Don Moore, serves in Baghdad.
At Northside, members make an extra effort to care for those carrying the load at home, ministry leaders said.
Army Lt. Col. Wendell Stevens, who attends the Broadmoor church in Nashville, Tenn., applauded that approach in an e-mail from Iraq.
“Send cards to the families of those deployed; take them out to lunch; do a good deed for them,” Stevens wrote. “They are very much like widows and orphans in distress. …
“It is my wife and children that are often struggling more than me with all the chores I can’t do, the loneliness my absence creates, the depression my sporadic encouragement can barely keep at bay,” he added. “It would mean a lot to me if they received an extra pat on the back every so often.”
In some ways, tending to four young boys — Alex, 9; Nicholas, 8; Jackson, 6; and Cooper, 4 — lessens Heather Bowden’s burden, she said.
She stays so busy that she has little time to miss her husband, except at night when the boys go to bed and Jason isn’t there.
“It gets kind of hard,” she said. “It’s those quiet times.”
Her fellow church members never intentionally neglect her needs, Bowden said.
“I think the church is often not set up for single parents — which, when your spouse is gone for this long especially, you kind of fill that category,” she said. “And when you get together to go to dinner with somebody, and it’s that couple and your kids … it makes it a little more uncomfortable.”
But she said her church family has been there for her “through thick and thin” — from a family who often invites her and the boys over to eat to members who babysit the other boys when one has a doctor’s appointment.
Another couple — who became like grandparents to the boys — drove one of Bowden’s sons to baseball practice for a month while she coached some of the other children.
“It’s not just about getting the kids to and from places,” she said. “It’s the relationships that are built, and the boys can see they do have family here and they’re not alone.”
Fellow Christians and non-Christian neighbors alike have helped her drywall and paint the downstairs of her home, she said. She hopes to surprise her husband with the project when he returns home for a week and a half at Christmas.
“God has given me the strength to get through this without my husband,” Bowden said. “He has placed people in my life in the exact moment that I need them.”