Iraq reservists need churches to ‘share sacrifices’
His location in Logistics Sustainment Area Anaconda is a far cry from Huntsville, Ala., where he was happily living life as a member of the Lincoln congregation — until 11 months ago.
A member of the U.S. Army Reserves, Learned’s role as a “weekend warrior” changed dramatically when he was called up for duty, leaving behind his wife, Tammie, and three daughters — ages 20, 18 and 16.
But Learned, an avionics electronic technician, knows he is one of the lucky ones. Previous full-time military service had prepared his family for their separation.
Plus, back in Huntsville, Alton Graves of the Lincoln church repaired a plumbing leak at his house — and a leak in his roof when the needs arose.
And member Jimmy Boren helped steer the three family cars to a trustworthy me-chanic. He helped out, too, when one of the daughters totaled her car in a non-injury accident, helping her find a good replacement.
But Learned’s experiences may well be the exception, said Don Yelton, director of the AMEN ministry, which supports and connects soldiers worldwide who are Christians.
Yelton knows something of the situation first-hand — he was called up in his 50s for stateside duty in the 1991 Gulf War.
Yelton said reservists experience a “life interruption which would be serious for any family.” Besides the separation and danger, they often face a severe loss of income, Yelton says. Some own businesses; others are at the apex of their careers.
While Yelton and others involved with ministry to the military would never belittle the burdens of full-time military families, they point to the different challenges reservists’ families face.
“Unlike active duty personnel, guard and reserve families do not live on or near a military home base,” said Jim Maxwell of the Fairfax, Va., church. “They are not surrounded by a military community that is also sharing their personal sacrifices.” Maxwell serves as the chaplaincy endorser for churches of Christ.
So, the needs are many. What can church members and congregations do?
Offer help in practical ways, as well as with prayers and concern, say those left behind.
Tom Learned’s wife, Tammie, mentions many everyday ways friends and fellow Christians have helped, including “bringing over a pot of stew when the kids were sick and popsicles when nothing would stay down, calling to see what I needed from the store and repairing the garage door after I ‘gently’ yanked it shut.”
At the Lincoln church, she says, “there is never a prayer said without remembering Tom, the girls and me.”
When her husband, Christopher, was called up with the Texas National Guard in August, April Dean, 26, was left with the total care of three children under age eight. She had to leave her studies at Lubbock Christian University, Lubbock, Texas, to cope with her responsibilities.
Her husband leaves for Iraq in January. Dean said, “This is the hardest thing I have had to endure. The loneliness and depression can overtake you.”
She says fellow Christians should, “ask if we need help with yard work or lifting heavy things. Give us a break — we are having to take on everything, and most of the time it is overwhelming. Remember that we can’t go out and fix the fence, mow the yard or change the oil in the car. Having someone to talk to helps, as well.”
But church members mean well, says Teresa Mazak, a member of the Grandview church, Des Moines, Iowa. Her husband, Michael, was sent to Iraq with the Iowa National Guard a year ago. He is to return to her and their daughters — ages 21, 11 and 8 — in January.
She says, “After he left, going to worship on Sundays was about the hardest thing I had to do. I missed him sitting beside me.
“It seemed at the time that the members at church didn’t know what to say. As time passed it got easier for all of us. Sometimes you have to tell people what you need — not because they don’t care but because they don’t know what to do.”
Despite the hardships, Mazak said, “Being apart has somehow brought us closer together. Mike and I will never be the same. I pray we will be a better husband, wife, father, mother and brother and sister in Christ.”
Of families’ needs, Maxwell said, “While thousands of men and women literally have their lives and families on the line, we are not calling our nation or our churches to make even minimal sacrifices. A congregation must share its members’ sacrifices.”