Tag Archive for: military services

“I’ve got your six.”

Dear Friend,

“I’ve got your six.” When someone says this to military personnel, they are stating a commitment. It’s an expression of loyalty and looking out for each other. The saying “got your six” originated with fighter pilots who would use “twelve o’clock” to indicate the front of their airplane and “six o’clock” to reference the rear of the aircraft. As a pilot heading into a brutal air battle, the six o’clock position is the most vulnerable to attacks from the enemy. It is your blind spot, your weak point. So, when another aviator says they’ve “got your six,” it means they have your back; they’re watching out for you.

The WELS members who protect our nation need us to make the extra effort to provide them with Word and sacraments and a supportive church family. They need us to “have their six” as they strive to stay close to their Savior. Often they are far from home, facing temptations and challenges, and spiritually vulnerable. This is why WELS has a special ministry to the military. If someone you know is in the military, you can provide WELS with contact information at wels.net/refer. We will serve them if we know how to reach them!

WELS Military Services shares the gospel of Jesus Christ with men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces and with civilians who live far away from their home congregations. These service men and women are shepherded by civilian chaplains and military contact pastors located at congregations near military installations. A national civilian chaplain communicates with those who are deployed and far from a church while military families in Europe are served by the European civilian chaplain who travels to conduct services in multiple locations.

WELS military member Michael Hefti and his family have made many moves during his years of service. They treasure the times that they have been stationed near a WELS congregation. “We have found personally that there is a big difference between livestreaming and being able to meet in-person and strengthen each other in the faith through that fellowship and through being able to take communion together in person.”

WELS Military Services also provides guidance directly to military members and their families. A weekly devotion focuses on the issues of military life. Resources on wels.net/military prepare recruits and their families for spiritual challenges. There is information for congregations seeking to encourage military members far from home. Detailed documents help military members navigate the military organization and gain permission to connect with a WELS pastor.

You can help us tell our brothers and sisters who serve this country “We’ve got your six” by supporting this ministry to military members. While we receive foundational support from the WELS budget, groups and individuals like you provide 80 percent of the financial support so that our military members, their families, and their colleagues can be served spiritually. Your gifts to the Military Services Fund can help us expand and strengthen this ministry that goes where your congregation and you cannot.

In Christ,
Jim Behringer
Director, WELS Commission on Special Ministries

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray for WELS military members and their families. Guide and protect them as they sacrifice the stability and comfort that most of us enjoy in order to protect our nation. Thank you for WELS Military Services, a ministry that aims to be there for these families, providing them with spiritual resources and personal connections. Guide and bless the efforts of the civilian chaplains and military contact pastors who lead this work. May these efforts ease the stresses of military life and help our WELS military service members to put their trust in you. Amen.

All because of one referral

To steal a quote from Colonel Smith of The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

WELS Military Services Committee has a plan to help military members receive religious services on base. Marine Corps Recruit, David, followed the plan.

It started with a simple text. “Hey Pastor Schulz, this is David. I’ll be in San Diego for Bootcamp starting August 26. I’m under the impression that you are my contact pastor that can visit me during basic?” He was correct. I was the Military Contact Pastor. But to visit him on base was going to be up to him.

Fortunately, there is a specific document at welscongregationalservices.net/military-contact-pastor. It is titled: How to have religious services on base. Recruit David followed all the steps.

A few weeks later a Religious Program Specialist (RP) from Marine Corps Recruit Depot – San Diego called me and told me there was a recruit who requested Holy Communion. I was able to get on base and have a devotion and Holy Communion with Recruit David! I love it when a plan comes together!

But there was much more to the plan than I could have ever dreamed. As I was leaving that day, one of the RP’s pulled me to the side. “You are a Lutheran pastor. We don’t currently offer a Lutheran service on base. Would you want to start one?”

Since then, I have been leading a worship service on base every Sunday morning. An average of 30 Recruits and Marines attend every week. Because it is a training depot, there is constant turnover. The thirty in attendance are different Recruits and Marines every six weeks! Only a handful have been WELS. Many of the others haven’t been to church in a long time, and some never have. But all in attendance hear the gospel of Jesus Christ!

And this amazing blessing all started because of one referral. I love it when a plan comes together! And I love it even more when God grants his blessings upon that plan! To God be the glory!

By Rev. Paul Schulz, pastor at Risen Savior, Chula Vista, Calif.

 

 

 

Military contact pastors meet for conference

WELS Military Services assists WELS congregations serving military members when they are stationed nearby. Civilian ministry to the military is a cornerstone of WELS Military Services’ work by equipping churches for local gospel and fellowship ministry to military personnel and their families.

Across the nation, 125 WELS churches near military installations and their pastors (called military contact pastors) are appointed to reach out to the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces.

April 26-28, 2022, the WELS Military Services Committee held its annual Military Contact Pastors Workshop at Risen Savior, Pooler, Ga., near Army Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. Members of the Military Services Committee and a group of WELS military contact pastors met to discuss ministry to the military with Fort Stewart chaplains and military personnel. WELS members Lt. Col. Michael Hefti and his wife, Katie, shared the stresses of military life and the importance of their WELS pastors and church family in supporting them spiritually.

Fort Stewart held a meeting attended by more than a dozen of the post’s military chaplains. The chaplains explained their work and the retreat attendees spoke to them about the unique needs of WELS military personnel for religious accommodation. Fort Stewart representatives explained family resources available to military members. The official program ended with a demonstration of how a worship service in the field would be set up and a visit to a museum on the post.

The annual workshop is sponsored through a grant from the Lutheran Military Support Group, a national organization of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) veterans. The Lutheran Military Support Group also sponsors free professional Christian counseling for military members served by WELS Military Services and WELS and ELS veterans.

Rev. Jim Behringer, director of WELS Special Ministries, said, “Of all the military contact pastors workshops, this year’s meeting was superior. Fort Stewart’s chaplains went the extra mile to create mutual understanding. They were impressed by WELS’ desire to serve military personnel, and they made every effort to help us in that regard. Our attendees are always highly motivated by the speakers, but we had some outstanding presentations that I hope will improve our ability to serve military members with the gospel while helping them carry their burdens.”

Rev. Paul Horn, chairman of the WELS Military Services Committee, notes that the key to serving more WELS members in the military is through referrals from their loved ones made at wels.net/refer. “When we know who our WELS military members are and where they are stationed, we can better serve them with Word and sacraments,” says Horn. “When our congregations are aware that military families are in their church, the best thing they can do is to assimilate them into the mission and ministry of the congregation as quickly as possible. Military families move often. Making your church their church home will provide much needed encouragement and support.”

To learn more about WELS Military Services, visit wels.net/military.

For more information about the Lutheran Military Support Group, visit lutheranmilitary.org.

 

 

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Prepared to serve the military neighbor

Most Americans assume that spiritual ministry to military members and their families is carried out by a U.S. military chaplain. In contrast, WELS Military Services strives to equip WELS congregations to serve military members when they are stationed nearby. It is rare to find a church body focused on equipping churches for local gospel and fellowship ministry to military personnel and their families, but civilian ministry to the military is a cornerstone of WELS Military Services’ work.

Across the nation, 125 WELS churches near military installations and their pastors (called Military Contact Pastors) are appointed to reach out to serve the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces.

April 26-28, the WELS Military Services Committee held its annual Military Contact Pastors Workshop at Risen Savior, Pooler, Ga., near Army Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. Members of the Military Services Committee met with a group of WELS Military Contact Pastors to discuss ministry to the military with Fort Stewart chaplains and military personnel, including WELS members Lt. Col. Michael Hefti and his wife Katie, who described the stresses of military life and the importance of their WELS pastors and church family in supporting them spiritually.

Every year, attendees look forward to the opportunity to visit a military installation. Fort Stewart extended extraordinary hospitality to the group by holding a meeting attended by more than a dozen of the post’s military chaplains. The chaplains explained their work and the retreat attendees spoke to them about the unique needs of WELS military personnel for religious accommodation. Fort Stewart representatives explained family resources available to military members. The official program ended with a demonstration of how a worship service in the field would be set up, and a visit to 3rd Infantry Division Museum on the post.

The annual workshop is sponsored through a generous grant from the Lutheran Military Support Group, a national organization of WELS and ELS veterans. The Lutheran Military Support Group also sponsors free professional Christian counseling for military members served by WELS Military Services and WELS and ELS veterans.

Rev. Jim Behringer, director of WELS Special Ministries, said, “Of all the Military Contact Pastors workshops, this year’s meeting was superior. Fort Stewart’s chaplains went the extra mile to create mutual understanding. They were impressed by the WELS desire to serve military personnel and they made every effort to help us in that regard. Our attendees are always highly motivated by the speakers, but we had some outstanding presentations that I hope will improve our ability to serve military members with the gospel while helping them carry their burdens.”

Rev. Paul Horn, chairman of the WELS Military Services Committee, notes that the key to serving more WELS members in the military is through referrals from their loved ones, which they can do by going to wels.net/refer. “When we know who our WELS military members are and where they are stationed, we can better serve them with Word and Sacraments.” Horn adds, “When our congregations are aware that military families are in their church, the best thing they can do is to assimilate them into the mission and ministry of the congregation as quickly as possible. Military families move often. Making your church their church home will provide much needed encouragement and support.”

To learn more about WELS Military Services, visit wels.net/military.

For more information about the Lutheran Military Support Group, visit lutheranmilitary.org.

 

New chaplain moving to Europe

Rev. John Hartwig is moving to Germany to serve WELS military members and civilians living abroad as the European civilian chaplain, a ministry of WELS Military Services, part of WELS Commission on Special Ministries. Hartwig received the call following the retirement of Rev. Don Stuppy, who has been serving as the European civilian chaplain since 2017. The WELS European civilian chaplain is based in Spiesheim, Germany, serving people in a number of German cities but also traveling to serve those in Italy, England, and Switzerland.

Hartwig and his wife, Helen, plan to move to Spiesheim later this month. Hartwig has spent the last 25 years of his ministry serving as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. Prior to his call at the seminary, he served as a missionary in Thailand from 1993 through 1995 and in Malawi, his first assignment when he graduated in 1983.

“It interested me to serve as a pastor again after being a seminary professor for 25 years, to worship with people and lead them in Bible study,” says Hartwig. “And the military aspect is something I’m very eager about. These are generally young people who are away from home, probably for the first time, and need to hear God’s Word and to be grounded in their faith.”

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the work of the European chaplain as travel has been restricted as well as visits to the bases. Hartwig says it’s starting to open up a little and hopefully he’ll be able to meet the people he serves when he gets there.

“I’m looking forward to serving people directly with Word and sacrament,” says Hartwig.

One of the newer initiatives from Military Services that Hartwig will undertake is working to identify lay leaders within the military who can help serve their brothers and sisters in arms and in Christ, whether at base or in the field. In addition, particularly in a post-coronavirus world, the Military Services Committee is exploring options for more online interaction, so that the chaplain can meaningfully interact with members more frequently.

If you, a family member, or a friend is living or working in Europe, Hartwig wants to be able to serve you. He, along with Military Services, request that you fill out the online referral form at wels.net/refer. Whether a military service member is based in Europe or in the United States, the referral form connects service people with either the chaplain in Europe or a military contact pastor in the U.S.

Learn more about WELS Military Services at wels.net/military.

 

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Serving those who serve their country

One of the many groups served by WELS Commission on Special Ministries is military service members and their families. One way the commission does this is through military contact pastors—pastors who serve WELS members and other Christians stationed at nearby military bases in addition to serving a congregation.

Rev. Paul Schulz, pastor at Risen Savior, Chula Vista, Calif., is one of approximately 120 military contact pastors who serve U.S. military members with the reassuring gospel message. He is the contact pastor for five different Marine and Naval bases in the area.

Schulz has been at Chula Vista for five and a half years. “I knew the congregation was made up of a lot of military members, and I always had a high respect for people who serve our country in that way,” says Schulz. “It was a real appeal to me to be able to serve military families.”

Schulz says one of the first challenges he faced was getting on base. “We want to let the chaplains on base know who we are and that if they come across any WELS members they can send them our way so we can serve them,” he says. “It’s really, really hard to get on base. It’s a challenge unless you have the right contact person.”

Now Schulz leads a service every Sunday at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot in nearby San Diego; anywhere from 25 to 65 recruits attend, many of whom aren’t WELS members. They’re young, and it’s usually their first time away from home. For the first time, they’re taking ownership of their faith. “It’s been one of the most incredible experiences and blessings in my ministry to be able to bring the Word to those recruits,” says Schulz. “The spiritual needs are the same for all of us, whether it was the farmers and ranchers I served in South Dakota, the engineers in Peoria, Ill., or the military members here. We’re all sinners who need to be reminded of our Savior and take comfort in his promises.”

Military families, however, are faced with their own set of unique and challenging circumstances. “Each family may be going through this for the first time, and they desperately need the comfort and assurance of God’s Word,” Schulz says. “They’re torn apart in so many different ways. It’s a blessing to assure them, especially those who will be deployed, that the Lord is with them in all things and in all ways.”

Schulz stresses that for him to be able to share God’s comforting Word with WELS members stationed in his area, he needs to know about them. WELS Military Services has an online referral form, wels.net/refer, that service members or their families can fill out. WELS contact pastors use the information to contact military members stationed across the country.

A new video is available from WELS Military Services titled “Staying Close to God’s Word While in the Military” for WELS high school juniors and seniors who are planning on going into the military after graduation and for others who want to support their spiritual welfare such as their parents and pastors.

Find additional resources for military contact pastors at welscongregationalservices.net.

 

 

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Combat trauma support group demonstrates love

Leonard Ravenhill tells a story in The Last Day Newsletter about a group of tourists visiting a humble village. Passing an old man sitting beside a fence, a youth asked mockingly, “Hey mister, were any great men born in this village?” “Nope,” said the old man, silencing their snickers, “only babies.”

That’s how we all start out, but along the way we gain wisdom in how to appreciate other people and their life experiences, so that we might love them as best we can in Christ. After all, people are God’s true treasure. “For God so loved the people of the world …”

Learning how to best love and treasure soldiers affected by combat trauma or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a challenge we are embracing at Abiding Savior, Killeen, Texas. In addition to our gospel outreach to soldiers at nearby Fort Hood, we host a one-hour combat trauma support group on the first Thursday of each month.

Seven soldiers form the core of our group. They are grateful that we offer a meal before we meet. Breaking bread together gives these heroes time to open up and get to know our pastor and staff, and makes it easier to invite others.

Each session begins with a devotion. The group prays through selected psalms for faith-based optimism. Participants go home with a laminated verse to memorize and put into practice.

Next, we watch “Care and Counsel for Combat Trauma,” a series of DVDs from the American Association of Christian Counselors (available at crumilitary.org/store). An accompanying workbook, provided by our congregation, enables group members to earn a certificate by viewing all 30 videos and taking exams. Soldiers are not only finding relief for themselves but learning how to share relief with other sufferers.

Class members are free to interrupt a video at any point for discussion and sharing of concerns, fears, insights, and relief from the Word of God. Chaplain Dave Archer, a certified combat trauma counselor, is a great blessing to all who attend our sessions.

One lesson we have learned is that God gives us himself in the midst of “triggers.” A trigger happens when the past interrupts the present without apology, and often without warning. Soldiers testify that reaffirming Christ’s promise, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” truly brings relief amid the most horrifying triggers.

“Listening is loving” is the other insight that has especially been impressed upon us. Combat trauma victims often are not heard and find it hard to open up. Few things say “I love you” more to a soldier with PTSD than honest listening. Jesus, help us listen, listen to understand, listen with empathy, and listen to learn how to pray for the one sharing.

Achieving relational greatness—the ability to love and cherish people as God’s true treasure—is a gift of his grace. Growing to love and cherish those who have incurred unseen wounds is challenging. Please pray for our efforts to do so at Abiding Savior and for all who suffer from combat trauma.

Tim Soukup serves soldiers of our country and soldiers of the cross as pastor at Abiding Savior, Killeen.

 

 

 

“Ripley’s believe it or not!” and WELS European Chaplaincy

“Believe it or not!” is a phrase that Jerry Galow utters frequently. At our last Easter retreat in Magdeburg, I asked Jerry whether he had ever attended the famous Oberammergau Passion Play. With a smile on his lips, he quickly replied, “Pastor, believe it or not, we did. While we did not get tickets ahead of time, we got them there for only fifteen marks, or about ten dollars!” In the eighteen months I have known Jerry and Marilyn, I have heard more than one of his fantastic stories. Since he always starts with “Believe it or not…”, I have given him the nickname “Ripley.”

Jerry and Marilyn first came to Germany in the late 1960’s when Jerry served a short military tour here. They returned in the early 70’s and welcomed the first WELS European chaplain, Pastor Ed Renz. Believe it or not, they have been here to welcome almost every chaplain since. Believe it or not, they remember every one. They can tell you stories about each one’s family and ministry.

Like the other WELS members living in Europe, they have their membership in the States. Almost every year, they return to visit their home church and family and friends.

Even though Jerry has lost most of his vision and is very frail, he and Marilyn faithfully worship and commune twice a month. They travel by train to Flörsheim, where we pick them up for worship at Wicker. They also attend almost every other special activity we offer in Germany. We have had 43 annual Easter retreats since the Gallows came to Europe. Believe it or not, they have attended every single one! The bottom line is that every aspect of their lives testifies to their love for the Lord, his Word, and the Wisconsin Synod.

Before I came to Germany, the previous chaplain, Joshua Martin, told me that the members here make this ministry special. There is no doubt about it. The Gallows are just one example of this. While my call is to serve as a civilian chaplain to WELS military in Europe, our fellowship includes military contractors, civilians, students, and others who are also living here. Although our ministry is centered in Germany, it stretches from London to Sicily, from France to Poland. The long distances, however, do not keep us from rejoicing in the close bond of fellowship we share in Jesus Christ with all members of the WELS.

The European Chaplaincy is supported by the prayers and gifts of WELS members here and in the States. The Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors has also been a longtime supporter of this ministry. Please remember us in your prayers and with your gifts.

Visit our website for our worship and retreat schedule at welseurope.net. If you or someone you know is headed to Europe as a student, a member of the military, etc., please fill out the Special Ministries referral form at wels.net/refer. Or send an e-mail to welschaplain@gmail.com.

Donald Stuppy and his wife Marge have served our WELS members in Europe since January 2017. They reside in Spiesheim, southwest of Frankfurt.

 

 

 

One tough Ranger

Army Rangers are tough. Physically tough. Mentally tough. Anything less, and they would not be among that elite band of brothers. But PTSD is tough, too. This is a story told by a Ranger who attended a PTSD retreat sponsored by the Lutheran Military Support Group, held May 4-6, 2018 at Camp Phillip, Wautoma, Wis.

It begins with some disclosure: I recognized that I volunteered as a Ranger, but my wife Sarah did not. And I realized that I am a chameleon that has learned to reflect my environment and adapt to what others want. I prayed that God would open my eyes more to my weaknesses and help me to focus on the one person that I can change in this world. Me.

But this weekend, for the first time in my life, it wasn’t weird for me.

He names off a horrid list of symptoms confronting him: At this retreat, I learned about the symptoms of PTS, such as: relationship problems, anxiety, fear, paranoia, withdrawing, putting up walls, hyper-vigilance, sudden bursts of anger and emotion, being easily startled, memory blocks, irritability, depression, and losing those we love because of who we project ourselves as, and the demands placed upon us in the defense of freedom.

He calls them some pretty big issues, then goes on to comment that at the retreat he had a pretty good crowd to share it with.

That was important. Sharing is not something victims of PTSD or PTS are inclined to do. But this Ranger reports: Golly, I met some pretty solid guys this weekend, and am thankful to have gone. My mom gave me great advice while I was on my way to the retreat, and that was to stay as long as possible, and get every drop of benefit from the time away that I could. She was right on and I’m glad that she encouraged me not to leave early.

He learned that he was not alone with marriage problems: Almost all of the men at the retreat had a similar path as me in regard to marriage, and struggle with it.

He came to an important realization: I have trained to protect and defend against enemies, but not loved ones from my own pride and anger.

He is thankful for those loved ones—and Martin Luther: You will never know the specialness of the memory of the package that I got to open on Christmas morning while I was deployed. What a blessing the efforts and influences of my in-laws have been to me. I truly didn’t think that Luther’s teaching would have anything to offer me, and I am glad that I was mistaken… God got my attention through Sarah.

He is also thankful for a special pastor: What you may not know is that, when I left home last year on my deployment, after being served divorce papers, I sought out what would not leave me. I sought help from four different chaplains and did not find what I needed. I went to the closest available church (WELS), and it was the beginning of a new journey that I am daily thankful to be on. Thank you, Pastor Dane from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

And finally, he shares this insight from the retreat: Fear is a liar to us all whenever it is outside of that which pushes us to keep God’s commandments.

These are the words of a tough Ranger—now fighting PTSD with tough love and tough faith. We pray for him and the many others who fight this battle.

 

 

 

Chased by demons

Many men and women in our congregations have served our country and communities with honor and distinction. Yet some suffer.

John A. Braun

All governments, ours included, call upon men and women to protect us from our enemies. The job they do often brings hidden pain.

A SOLDIER’S DUTY

For Erhard Opsahl, it started after graduating from Northwestern College in 1965. He enlisted in the army. His nephew was a conscientious objector and served as a medic but never carried a rifle. But Opsahl became a soldier and at first struggled with the Fifth Commandment. The catechism said, “Thou shalt not kill,” but training taught him to do just that and how to do it effectively. He was a soldier trained to do a soldier’s job—kill the enemy.

Can a Christian be a soldier? Opsahl read Luther and Augustine. Both provided the same answer. Murder is forbidden. Individuals may not take a life. But God entrusts the government with the sword (Romans 13:4), and the sword is not just for show. It is a weapon that brings death—a weapon for killing, if necessary.

In service to the government and obeying the Fourth Commandment—to submit to the higher authority that God has instituted—Christians can use the sword. Police officers have the same responsibility.

Soldiers and police officers use the sword—the weapon for killing—for the greater good. Luther wrote almost five hundred years ago, “What men write about war, saying that it is a great plague, is all true. But they should also consider how great the plague is that war prevents” (Luther’s Works AE 46:96). Opsahl says, “It’s my pet peeve that so many don’t understand the difference between murder—forbidden by God’s commandment—and killing by soldiers and police officers.”

A SOLDIER’S HEARTACHES

Conscience eased and trained as a soldier, Opsahl was sent to do his duty on the battlefield. He spent nine months as a mechanized infantry and scout platoon leader in Vietnam, where the demons arose that would later pursue him. “In combat, not only does one’s own life depend on one’s own actions, but so do the lives of one’s buddies,” he says. That bond is difficult for anyone who has not experienced it to comprehend. “One is willing to act in ways that are potentially hazardous to one’s own safety if the deed will help save a buddy’s or subordinate’s life,” says Opsahl. “I don’t know of a stronger bond. . . . In wartime, a buddy protecting a buddy from harm—even to the extent of giving his own life—happens frequently.”

The demons arise when those buddies are killed. Opsahl admitted it was “gut wrenching” when a buddy took a bullet in the heart. When another died, he says, “Part of my insides were savagely eaten away.” Heartache was no less severe when another was killed when a truck rolled over him two weeks before he was due to come home. Add to that the reality that Opsahl survived—sometimes by inches—while others around him died.

At the time the soldier has to move on, remembering that God must have a plan for the survivors, even in the carnage. It’s almost like the demons are locked away in the mind after the ambushes, firefights, and mines. They have little opportunity to escape and cause harm when your buddies still depend on you and you have your duty to perform.

And when soldiers come home, for some it is still moving forward. Opsahl became a career soldier. He attended the National War College, was promoted to the level of colonel, and served with many distinguished Americans in Washington. He remains amazed at what God has done in his life.

A SOLDIER’S DEMONS

Returning to civilian life means returning to a world where killing and violence are not almost daily routines. The memories of conflict and bloodshed lie hidden under layers of family, jobs, and adjustments, but they do not disappear.

Unfortunately every hour of every day vets commit suicide. The average age of these vets is 57, years after their battlefield experiences. Sometimes vets even without battlefield experiences are chased by their own demons. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real problem—one that Opsahl also experiences. Remembering or retelling is like “going to the dreaded place created by the loss of my men, a hole in my heart never to be filled again” and it “is too threatening to my psyche.”

Symptoms of the disorder cause significant problems in social and work situations as well as in relationships. According to the Mayo Clinic, the problems include intrusive memories, flashbacks, disturbing dreams, and emotional distress to something that reminds the former soldier of those events. Additional symptoms include avoidance of thinking about the events or places that bring memories back, hopelessness, memory problems, irritability, aggressive outbursts, guilt, and alcohol and drug abuse. It’s a long list. Symptoms vary from individual to individual and in intensity.

When vets return to civilian life, they return to families and to our churches too. Often they receive no recognition or thanks for their sacrifice. Sometimes they face protests and rejection. After Vietnam, Opsahl crossed picket lines of protesters as he pursued his graduate studies. “We were hassled every day,” he says. In most cases those who have carried the sword of governmental authority—veterans and police officers—find little understanding of the burdens they carry.

Opsahl regularly attends a support group. It provides an opportunity to talk with other vets. He says, “Sharing one’s thoughts with other PTSD military members has the soothing effect of knowing one is not alone. It lowers, a bit, the walls one builds to protect one’s fragile ego from those who know nothing or little of the indescribable steep slope to depression.”

So what can we do as Christians? God has placed us here to love one another. It might seem a bit glib, but you can “love a vet.” Don’t forget the police officers you know—not just the vets and officers in your congregation but all those in your community. For those in our congregations, we have a special opportunity to show empathy, support, and love. Pastors, church councils, and members need to be aware of what these men and women have gone through. The full and compete forgiveness of Christ is an important antidote to the demons that lay hidden just below the surface. Don’t forget to pray for the retired and active servants of our government who carried or still carry the sword.

John Braun is the executive editor of Forward in Christ.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
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Blessed Abroad

As a U.S. active duty family serving in Germany for the past five years, we have the privilege of the ministry provided by the European WELS Civilian Chaplaincy with Pastor Joshua Martin. We are abundantly blessed to have this ministry that serves to nurture our faith and provides us a loving, spiritual home with a unique European congregation.

Our Faith Nourished

Many of our friends consider our time in Europe to be mostly about vacations spent enjoying croissants, cobblestones, and gothic cathedrals. Living in Europe is also about navigating through the major milestones of life in a foreign place. During our stay in Germany, we have experienced the birth and baptism of our daughter Sophia, illness, and the passing of my father; not to mention all that is entailed with assimilating to a new country. Through WELS Civilian Chaplaincy, we obtain spiritual support through the receiving and sharing of God’s Word, witnessing baptism, and taking communion. All of these serve to comfort, deliver hope, and assure us that despite our difficulties, we will persevere as he has addressed our most serious need—the removal of our sin debt through the perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection of our Savior Jesus. Indeed, gothic cathedrals in Europe are awe-inspiring with their thin walls, beautiful stained glass, and shooting perspectives that touch incredible, vertical heights, but they pale in comparison to the deep and enduring love our God demonstrates to us on a daily basis through his Word and the Christian love and support delivered through our ministry.

A Unique Congregation

Our congregation is a diverse group of fellow U.S. active duty personnel, U.S. federal government civilians, U.S. expatriates, and Lutherans from other nations. Pastor Martin offers worship services in several German cities, in Switzerland, and in England. In addition, the ministry offers retreats during Easter, summer, and Reformation. Our favorites include the vast open markets in Nuremburg, Schweinshaxe—roasted pig knuckle accompanied with monk-brewed beer in Bad Kissingen, and the enchanting cliffs of Mohr in County Clare, Ireland. Retreats encourage participation as I have played chef, photographer, choir singer, baby sitter, and usher. A typical retreat includes Bible study, choir practice, outings around town, dinner at a local restaurant, and a main worship service held on Sunday morning. Children are also educated and entertained as Katie Martin conducts Bible school with projects while also choreographing a performance for the main service. A highlight of a retreat is the social time where folks stay up late and enjoy snacks and beverages while spending time socializing, playing card and board games, and enjoying each other’s company.

To commune with other Christians within the beautiful backdrop of Europe while embracing other cultures has given us unique worship and social opportunities. Thus, we share God’s Word, unforgettable memories, and spectacular photographs in amazing places while having forged close friendships that will last for many years.

Thankful for Blessings

As we await reassignment back to the United States, I now begin to ponder what we will do without our WELS ministry—Pastor and our European congregation. For now, we are not certain where our next assignment will take us. However, I do know that wherever we will be, God will continue to guide and bless us. In the meantime, I can offer thanks and gratitude to him for being blessed abroad.

By Tony Caparoso

The congregation and an Army reserve family

The four members of the Cecil family were living in four different places in 2011 and 2012 while Captain Rebecca Cecil was deployed with the Army Reserves to Afghanistan. While Becky focused on logistics for the Army, her own family’s logistics were complicated. Her husband, Lucian, remained in the family home in Harrodsburg, Ky., and had a computer that could no longer use Internet. Their daughter Britney was attending Luther Prep, in Watertown, Wis., and their son Luke was attending school and living with Becky’s parents in Radcliff, Ky.

Family members kept in touch with each other and with Becky by Skype. Looking back, Luke said that it went better than he expected. He expected to feel alone while his family was scattered, but he never did.

Luke’s grandparents attended Faith Lutheran Church in Radcliff. Their church was one of the reasons Luke never felt alone. Faith is one of 125 WELS congregations where the pastor serves as a WELS Military Contact Pastor (MCP) for a nearby military installation. The congregation has fellowship activities such as “game night” where Luke could hang out with his fellow believers. Members of Faith go out of their way to make sure military families were okay. The congregation notes military deployments and returns and feels like family. They assemble care packages for people in military service and is obvious they care about people in Luke’s situation. “I wasn’t the only one with a family member overseas,” Luke said.

It is important for congregations to be conscious of the ministry needs of family left behind during deployment, especially with National Guard or Reserve members, because those families do not receive the resources from the military available to families of army or navy personnel.

While Becky was far from home, her congregation sent her devotions. She also could have received WELS devotions via e-mail, written especially for men and women in military service. Her church also provided her with the WELS Military Services Spiritual Deployment Kit that contained printed spiritual materials and a MP3 player with audio files of devotions.

Congregations should provide WELS Military Services with contact information for members who are active duty. Our National Civilian Chaplain can provide spiritual resources especially helpful for our men or women serving away from home.

Becky returned from Afghanistan in May, 2012. Luke’s first time seeing his mom was at his confirmation examination on Mother’s Day. Now the family had another adjustment. National Guard had been Becky’s career for 20 years, but now her service was over. While she looked for a place in the civilian work force, the loss of her income nearly cost the family their home. The pastor at their home church, Victory Lutheran, Lexington, Ky., has made the congregation aware of the need to minister to military families, and has encouraged veterans to open up about the challenges of military life. Veterans form a natural support network for the active military families.

Becky said it takes a while for returning military personnel to feel the need for help from their church family. Church members may have to repeat their willingness to help after the return home honeymoon period has ended. Often returning military members and their families don’t start to face the challenges until six months after returning from deployment. Accepting help may take even longer. It’s important for pastors and church friends to be patient and alert for the need for help or encourage.

Church families can play an important role in supporting those who are willing to go into harm’s way for the sake of our country. Some of what we can do for our military personnel is taking care of their families. Watch for ministry opportunities that the Lord may provide as we serve one another in love.

By Pastor Jim Behringer, director, WELS Special Ministries

The comfort of home

In January, 2013, my husband’s job moved us to Frankfurt, Germany. We had lived for ten years in the Chicago area, where we had been very involved with our local WELS congregation and its Pre-K through 12th-grade school system. Very, very involved. In fact, because we had been living at least a thousand miles from all of our relatives, our congregation was, in a real sense, our family.

We knew (or thought we knew) what we were giving up: the only home and friends our three children could well remember; activities and relationships that gave us joy and a sense of purpose; regular weekly church services (sometimes two or three services in one day, depending on choir, handbells, or praise band commitments).

We didn’t know what we were heading toward—except that there was a WELS European Civilian Chaplaincy and twice-a-month church services close to Frankfurt. We expected unfamiliar surroundings and new experiences. We assumed we would encounter difficulties with adapting to the culture and learning the language in our new surroundings. These were part of the package of the adventure that we wanted. And yet, even when one craves adventure, there is comfort in the idea of being able to return home. We had committed to living in Germany for at least three years, and we might not physically see our home in the United States in all of that time. How wonderful, then, that in the midst of upheaval and uncertainties—including living in a hotel for three months and being without a personal car for four months—we could rely on regular Christian worship and Bible study, familiar hymns and liturgy, and solid biblical preaching of law and gospel. For us, these are some of the greatest comforts of “home.”

When we first arrived in Germany, we did have an automatic community in my husband’s coworkers and their families, and to a lesser extent, in our children’s English-language school. But what we had been spoiled to, and still craved, was the kind of community formed by people with shared beliefs. Certainly, Pastor Martin and the Frankfurt-area congregation made us welcome. Still, it can be hard to get to know people when you only meet twice a month for a couple of hours.

Enter the weekend retreat. I admit that I have a passion for travel. What could be better, then, than an event that combines a beautiful foreign location and time spent with fellow believers? The retreat we attended in September, 2013, near Bath, England, offered time to eat together, play together, and study God’s word together. We had time to meet people from different European congregations and time to get to know them. We enjoyed good food, evening games, and local sightseeing. I even had the chance to sing with a choir again, something I missed like crazy.

Technology can be wonderful, and I am grateful that I am easily able to keep in contact with friends and church-family members in the United States. I can stay informed about, pray for, and even continue to work with ministries of my home congregation. Still, there is no substitute for a sense of physical community, the encouragement of a smile or hug, the pleasure of everyday conversation. We are so blessed to have found these things through the WELS European ministry.

By Jennifer G. Knoblock