Posts

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.

 

 

 

Worshiping in a secular military

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).

My understanding of Psalm 20:7 has changed since Missionary Howard Mohlke chose it to be my confirmation passage. I see that passage differently after six years of active duty as a United States Marine. King David was talking about two of the most effective and powerful weapons of his time. Today’s “chariots and horses” take the form of advanced jets and accurate weapons, but the temptation that Psalm 20 alludes to has not diminished.

The armies of Old Testament Israel had the advantage of having God as the head of their military organization. Our service members don’t have that advantage in a nation which separates church and state. Our nation values the qualities that our Christian men and women bring to the Armed Forces, but it will remain a secular organization.

The military provides for the religious needs of its service members through military chaplains from major religious denominations. This does not meet the needs of WELS service members who can only practice their faith fully through clergy of their own fellowship, particularly the reception of Holy Communion. The Department of Defense accounts for this situation through the regulation DoDI 1300.17: Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services. This regulation directs the services to approve requests for religious accommodation “when accommodation would not adversely affect mission accomplishment, including military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health, and safety, or any other military requirement.” In most circumstances WELS members can request religious services and the military will have to approve the request or be in violation of the law.

A request for religious services during basic training is an example of a good situation to use this right. The WELS National Civilian Chaplain to the military can help to prepare the religious accommodation request in advance and will connect the service member with a WELS pastor in the area who can serve them. In basic training this request will go to the drill sergeant/drill instructor. If the military member is already at their permanent duty station the request will go to their unit chaplain. In both cases, a military chaplain will be responsible for helping enable the request because, in addition to their religious duties, chaplains are responsible for ensuring that military members can worship according to their religion. When making the request, the military member will have to explain that the WELS is an Armed Forces-recognized “distinctive religious group” and it is not appropriate for them to receive services from Lutheran ministers who are not WELS.

The military can deny a request due to military necessity, such as the impracticality of bringing a WELS pastor onto an active battlefield or to a secret base. They will, however, work through the unit chaplain to provide access to appropriate religious materials or an opportunity to call or Skype a WELS minister.

Today’s “chariots and horses” are powerful, and our military is perhaps the strongest earthly army ever to exist, but I rejoice daily that our nation protects my right to take King David’s advice and trust in the name of the Lord my God instead.

For more information on how to request religious services while in uniform, contact Pastor Paul Ziemer, the WELS National Civilian Chaplain, at military@wels.net.

Adam Lawrenz is a member of the Military Services Committee and serves in uniform in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

 

 

 

Military Contact Pastors meet in Tampa

Want to get Military Contact Pastors (MCP’s) to attend a conference on ministering to our members in the Armed Forces? Schedule it in Florida in January!

The Military Services Committee held the annual conference for some 30 MCP’s at Northdale Lutheran Church in Tampa from January 30 to February 1, 2018.

The pastors, who all serve near military bases, heard presentations by an exercise instructor who works with wounded veterans, a former Navy SEAL who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a Marine veteran explaining the military mindset and procedures, another former Marine who uses jiu-jitsu as therapy with PTSD victims, and an active duty Army sergeant assigned to the National Guard chaplains’ office.

The conference was highlighted by a trip to MacDill Air Force Base, home of the military’s Central Command and Special Operations Command, where the base chaplain fielded questions about religious accommodation for distinctive religious groups (like WELS) and how pastors can gain access to service members who request WELS or ELS pastoral care.

The next MCP Conference is planned for early 2019 in the western United States. For more information, contact Pastor Paul Horn, chairman of the Military Services Committee, at revhorn2004@gmail.com or 770-943-0330.

 

 

 

A PTSD retreat

“My veteran buddy and I meet once a week. Each time we walk away with the same assignments: I am responsible for seeing to it that he stays alive for a week; and he is to make sure I am still among the living seven days from now.”

The words don’t seem so strange when considering the report that the average suicide rate among American military veterans is one per hour—every day of the year.

On the first weekend of May, the Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG) sponsored a retreat at Camp Phillip, Wautoma, Wis., for veterans facing post-traumatic stress.

The opening devotion carried the words of Jesus, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Twelve former sailors, soldiers, Marines, and one comfort dog stepped away from the rest of the world to receive mutual support and encouragement. It was a time to refresh body, mind, and soul.

Rev. Jason Hacker, LMSG director at large and pastor at Grace, Waukesha, Wis., arranged the event. Retired Colonel Erik Opsahl, who also faces PTSD, led the group to take a closer look at how the stress disorder invades lives and minds. Painful stories were relayed. Loving comfort was offered. The saying “pain shared is pain divided” was put into practice.

Former strangers, some coming from as far away as Florida, soon found common ground based upon common values, common experiences, and a common faith.

One attendee commented, “Surviving the war is just the beginning. Now we must survive the peace.” Heads nodded in agreement.

Representatives of WELS Military Services and of the Board of Control of the Lutheran Military Support Group shared care and concern from both the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and WELS. The message was, “You have not been forgotten!” One discussion focused upon how congregations and the two church bodies might support military personnel and their families.

Attendees also discussed the difference between the civilian and the military worlds. Regret was expressed over the fact that civilians often do not recognize the needs of active duty and veteran military personnel. But it was also recognized that military people are reluctant to admit their needs to their civilian brothers and sisters.

A review of Bible passages underscored the certain source of spiritual resiliency—something much needed and desired. Closing worship services invited the participants to approach the throne of grace for forgiveness, renewal, and blessing.

The hope is that more such retreats—perhaps in different parts of the country—might be offered. The group is also exploring inviting non-WELS and non-Christian veterans as an outreach opportunity.

Learn more about WELS Military Services at wels.net/military or the LMSG at lutheranmilitary.org.

By Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS national civilian chaplain to the military and WELS liaison to U.S. Armed Forces

 

 

Guarding the faith of the faithful guardians

Military men and women defend us. They willingly serve our country. Their training prepares them to be leaders, achievers, warriors. We might think that these people don’t need a thing, except maybe a call from home or a package of items that are hard to get when you’re far away.

Few people consider the spiritual needs of our military men and women. Yet during those years in service, they may face life-or-death situations. They encounter pressures that civilians would never guess come with military life. They may feel they are sinning when they use violence against the enemy, not understanding the role that God has for them.

This is why we need you to provide WELS Military Services with contact information for members in the military. Our 125 Military Contact Pastors, our National Civilian Chaplain Paul Ziemer, and European Civilian Chaplain Don Stuppy understand the issues. If our service members connect with God’s Word, then instead of drifting away from their faith, they often gain a new appreciation for the Lord and his Word. Please go to wels.net/refer for the sake of the spiritual needs of those who serve us!

Learn more at wels.net/military. Find resources at csm.welsrc.net/military.

To add a service member to the mailing list, go to wels.net/refer.

 

 

 

Guarding the faith of our faithful guardians

Lucas Hendricks serves on the Lutheran Military Support Group (lutheranmilitary.org) and is a member of Trinity, Woodbridge, Va.

Death. For the Christian, that word has lost the terror of a permanent event. We know that death is the beginning of life eternal in paradise. But what if your vocation regularly brings you face to face with mortality? You crave the reminder that death is temporary, because it looks, smells, and feels so permanent.

Our military men and women are either in combat, recovering from combat, or preparing to go into combat. They need soul care, but church involvement with the state is problematic. Attending a local congregation is an option—when they are stationed near one and have time to attend. But when deployed, or stationed far from a confessional church, they lose access to the sacrament and mutual encouragement. Yes, technology—when available—can connect them to biblically-sound resources. Yes, they can always read God’s Word. But what hungry souls they become after many months away from their Christian brothers and sisters!

Meanwhile, the military chaplaincy travels with them. They may hear familiar prayers and hymns, receive words of comfort and encouragement. But they also hear unfamiliar doctrine and subtle error that may scratch “itching ears.” All views are considered equal. If you think their Christian faith will be attacked in college, picture the same trials in the pressure of combat! The church has an obligation to their sheep that volunteer to be sheepdogs* for a season. So what can we do?

Service members

  • Know the regulations governing religious accommodation (such as for practices like our view of fellowship and close communion).
  • Take an active role in your own soul care—what the military calls spiritual fitness. This is about your readiness for combat and your resilience when faced with the horror of war.
  • Find out if there is a WELS/ELS church near you by going to yearbook.wels.net/unitsearch. Call the pastor to request his services.
  • Contact WELS Military Services (military@wels.net) and ask what they need from you.
  • Support your local congregation and WELS Military Services with your offerings.

Pastors

  • Learn about installations near you and introduce yourself to the senior chaplain.
  • Contact WELS Military Services (military@wels.net) to learn what sheep may be in your pasture. They can also offer suggestions for effective ministry.
  • Call on troops and their families at home. Become familiar with their circumstances.
  • Visit them at work. Meet their chaplain and their commander.
  • Invite them to take on tasks in your congregation that fit their schedule and abilities.

Synod leaders

  • The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Board needs to hear from you, not for their benefit, but for the benefit of our members in service.
  • Can we get WELS/ELS recognized as an option for religious preference? This would offer another statistical reporting avenue; more important, it would alert leadership and the unit chaplain to the unique religious needs under their command.
  • Sixteen years of conflict have taken their toll and WELS/ELS service members are not immune. Because of the military’s organization, they can be isolated from the greatest source of resiliency, the means of grace. Suicide and divorce, risky and illegal behaviors are symptoms of the stress. What a huge opportunity for our God! He offers the cure for sin, fear, hurt, hatred, war, death. What a huge opportunity for his church! We have the medicine of the gospel.

* The analogy refers to citizens (sheep), attackers (wolves), and protectors (sheepdogs).

 

 

 

It’s different in Deutschland

Paul Horn is chairman of the Military Services Committee and pastor of Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church, Hiram, Ga.

I have to pay to use the restroom at the gas station? I don’t get free refills on my coffee? I have to pay for water at the restaurant, and tell the waiter if I want my water “still” or with bubbles? What do you mean I can’t call an Uber? Isn’t that a German company? They don’t speak English in this village? Doesn’t everybody speak English? No stores are open on Sunday? But I don’t have everything I need to make dinner tonight!

Americans living on the German economy soon discover that some cultural norms in the United States are not normal in Europe. Even with global trade and Amazon there are some things you just can’t get in Germany. My wife and I experienced some of this “culture shock” this summer when we visited our civilian chaplain, Pastor Don Stuppy and his wife Marge, who serve the spiritual needs of our WELS members scattered throughout Europe.

Don and Marge were just six months into their new ministry when we arrived. We spent the next two weeks traveling over 1800km (1180 miles) with them to Munich, Vilseck, Zurich, Ramstein Air Base, and Wicker. This is a typical two weeks for the Stuppy’s. Once a month they also squeeze in the Netherlands and England!

One thing Americans cannot get in Germany every Sunday, especially Christians who belong to a confessional Lutheran church body, is the divine service with Holy Communion in English. Over two weekends the four of us met with WELS members in their homes or apartments, a military base chapel or a community center. The gatherings ranged from eight to twenty souls. Some locations had a piano, other places we used music from a laptop. But every place had what these American Lutherans needed: a familiar liturgy, God’s Word proclaimed, Christ crucified preached, his body and blood distributed, hymns sung in praise and thanks, their Savior’s blessing received with grateful hearts.

WELS members in Europe expressed their deep appreciation. Even though our chaplain is only able to visit them once or twice a month, they crave that time to be fed and nourished and encouraged, to hear the promises of their Savior, and to build up their brothers and sisters.
Here in the United States we can fill our coffee cup as many times as we want without paying extra. We can order a glass of water at a restaurant and not see it on the bill. We can shop on Sunday. We can go to church every week. Some of our brothers and sisters cannot. We thank God for providing this ministry in Europe so that we are able to faithfully bring God’s Word and sacrament to his people.

What can you do to support your brothers and sisters? Pray for our civilian chaplain, his wife, and the people they serve. Email our chaplain (welschaplain@gmail.com) and let him know you’re praying for our ministry in Europe. Consider adopting the European Civilian Chaplaincy as your next mission project in your school or church. Learn more about our services to the armed forces at wels.net/military. Then, instead of talking about all the things we can’t do, you’ll be saying, “Look what our God has enabled us to do!”

 

 

 

New online training for military contact pastors

Paul Wolfgramm, a member of the Military Services Committee, served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq.

A new narrated power point available at WELS.net University offers an introduction to the military mindset. The courses on WELS.net University, an online learning environment designed to support the training needs of the Wisconsin Synod, are free. Visit wnu.wels.net to create an account, explore the course categories, and enroll. “Training for Military Contact Pastors” is available under the Special Ministries heading.

The course addresses the need for making God’s Word available to our members on active duty, and offers tips and suggestions for our pastors to reach them. WELS Military Services can bring the Word to those who cannot regularly attend a Sunday morning church service. In addition, military members face potent and regular temptations such as alcohol abuse and pornography, and face unique challenges associated with marriage and post traumatic stress disorder. The second part of the presentation discusses the importance of a solid Christian education before entering the military; Distinctive Religious Group Leaders; ways to address the transient and remote nature of the military; worship locations; and ways to involve military veterans from the congregation.

The course is available to anyone, but is especially tailored to military contact pastors (MCP’s) without military experience. WELS has over 100 MCP’s throughout the continental United States, serving congregations close to military installations. Although these men are called primarily to serve their local congregation, they also perform vital work in reaching out to the military. Active duty members rely on MCP’s to be familiar with military protocol, to serve them with God’s Word and sacraments, and to provide Christian counseling. The training course ensures that MCP’s have a basic understanding of the military and the synod resources available for their work.

Finally, all members should be aware of wels.net/refer. If you or someone you love is on active duty, in the Guard or Reserves, please register at this easy-to-use website. Without this information, WELS Military Services cannot provide spiritual support to those who are in our armed forces. Registered personnel receive a welcome package and regular devotions, plus ways to connect with our national civilian chaplain, our European civilian chaplain, our military contact pastors, and fellow WELS members on base.

When service members deploy, move overseas, permanently change station, or leave the military, PLEASE UPDATE wels.net/refer. (Don’t forget to notify your pastor as well.) Military service removes our members from their former and familiar spiritual support group. Please go right now to wels.net/refer and help connect yourself or a loved one with God’s Word.

 

 

 

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.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

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