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Ministering to troops in the aftermath of war


Strip away all the politics, the emotion and the personal viewpoints, and the facts are these: The military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are being fought over a long period of time thousands of miles away by individuals many of us do not know.
We may have a loved one or know of a few church members deployed to dangerous areas across the globe, but a majority of us are not invested daily in the lives of the individuals who are protecting ours.
This must change.
Though Scripture tells us there will always be war, individual battles do end. Those serving this country have and will continue – at whatever point – to complete their first, second or third deployments, and most will return home.
Are we ready for their return, whenever that may be?
Recent reports suggest that, while the military acts quickly to treat and honor those physically wounded in combat, America does a substandard job of taking care of its mentally wounded.
In past eras when troops returned from war, we as a fellowship weren’t educated about how best to assist them. Those who needed, but did not receive, help often tried to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs and failed miserably. Homelessness was prevalent. Families were torn apart. Our society suffered, but more importantly, those who are such a vital part of our communities were shattered.
The scars of combat mark bodies, to be sure, but the most profound wounds occur under the skin.
Congregations that aren’t already doing so should make plans now to soon begin offering biblically based counseling services, support groups and other related services for returning veterans.
The military health system needs help, according to the American Psychological Association. There’s a 40 percent vacancy rate in active duty psychologists in the Army and Navy. Many current enlistees, veterans and families are not getting needed counseling. There simply aren’t enough resources to match the demand of 650,000 deployments to the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Members also should be educated about combat-related concerns like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Up to 30 percent of all personnel been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 suffer from depression, anxiety or PTSD, according to studies conducted by the Army.
Our congregations must be prepared to minister to the families of those killed or wounded. For some, asking for help may be difficult or impossible. Knowing it is available and accessible may mean the difference between someone taking that first step or trying to deal with pain or grief alone.
We are inspired by the efforts of individuals, congregations and ministries faithfully praying for troops. Many organize teams that send letters, cards and care packages to those living and working temporarily in some of the world’s most dangerous places. A few, like the AMEN Ministry of the White’s Ferry Road church in West Monroe, La., have been encouraging soldiers for more than 30 years.
While these good efforts should — and will — continue, we anticipate our troops’ return. We must plan more than parades or homecoming celebrations. We must be active and engaged in the next phase of the lives of our country’s servicemen and women.
We may not know their names. We might — or might not — share their mission. What matters, though, is that we know our savior and we share in his mission, to his glory.
Let’s be ready for the day when our troops come home.
Sept. 1, 2007

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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