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