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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.

 

 

 

Serving the military personnel of WELS

Through WELS Military Services, numerous resources are available to support the faith of those who serve and have served in the United States Armed Forces. This committee operates through a national civilian chaplain and liaison to the military, a full-time civilian chaplain in Europe, and many WELS pastors who serve those stationed stateside.

Two recent events represent how WELS aims to meet the spiritual needs of both active and retired members of the military.

April 30­–May 2, the WELS Military Services Committee held its annual Military Contact Pastors Retreat at Risen Savior, Chula Vista, Calif., near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

When a WELS congregation is located near a military installation like Camp Pendleton, the pastor serving that congregation may be asked to serve as a military contact pastor. Currently more than 100 WELS pastors are serving WELS military personnel in this capacity.

This year, 22 WELS military contact pastors, five Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) pastors, six WELS Military Services Committee members, and three special speakers were in attendance at the Military Contact Pastors Retreat under the theme “Serving Those Who Serve Our Country.” The retreat’s presentations provided the attendees with insights into the unique challenges of the military lifestyle during and after deployment. Attendees were also able to visit Camp Pendleton. There, they spoke to the camp’s chaplain who explained how WELS pastors and certified lay leaders can serve certain spiritual needs of WELS military personnel.

Then, May 3–5, the Lutheran Military Support Group hosted its second annual Veteran Spiritual R&R at Camp Phillip, Wautoma, Wis. The retreat was open to all WELS and ELS veterans who live with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Attendees gathered from across the United States. Over the three days, they encouraged one another through their shared experiences in military service and shared faith in Jesus Christ. They bonded through team activities and topical workshops.

“I am so amazed at how people who have never known each other can connect so quickly and offer such meaningful support to each other,” says Rev. Jason Hacker, Grace, Waukesha, Wis. “What a blessing it was to witness it!” Hacker is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Lutheran Military Support Group and a WELS civilian chaplain.

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.

“The best thing civilian laypeople can do to help is to refer their troops, whether they are family members or friends,” Horn explains. “They should go to wels.net/refer to enter military members’ information so we can serve them with Word and Sacraments.”

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

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

 

 

“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 © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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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