For most Christians, meeting together with fellow Christians is quite easy. But when you are thousands of miles away, you have to overcome a few challenges.
D.J. and Betsy Nash and Brian and Kim Page
Okinawa? Yes, that’s what the orders said. “We were surprised and upset about orders to Okinawa. We had been planning to retire in two years and had just sent our oldest to his freshman year at Luther Prep in Wisconsin so that he would be able to spend his high school days in one place. It was the hardest on him when we told him that we were bringing him with us and he would have to change high schools after all,” says Kim Page. “Being in full charge of our children’s spiritual growth and our family’s worship is a big deal.”
D.J. Nash agrees, remembering that he was filled with fear on how his family’s spiritual life would change. The challenge of moving to the other side of the world is not just a matter of culture and distance. The familiar patterns to remain in faith and grow in faith change dramatically. Regular worship in a church disappears. “The synod’s website informed us there were no established WELS churches or schools in Okinawa,” D.J. says. The Nashes had been active in their home congregation and at California Lutheran High School. They were saddened by the thought of no longer being involved in those areas. Two of their sons were not yet confirmed and at the ages when they should receive instruction.
The Pages did not retire to avoid the transfer, and the Nashes started packing too. The Nashes took one more step to prepare. They contacted Paul Ziemer, the WELS national civilian chaplain and liaison to the military. He helped them get in touch with those already stationed in Okinawa. Facebook was an important link at the time. They even discovered old friends with children the same ages already there. Their fears were calmed, and excitement for a new chapter in their lives began to build.
But that didn’t mean that everything would be as it was. “There are ups and downs in maintaining a strong spiritual life being so isolated from other WELS Christians,” says D.J.
The Nashes and the Pages found ways to connect with congregations back home. They gather in the homes of the people in Okinawa to attend services via DVD and the Internet. “We are thankful to all the WELS congregations that record sermons, Bible studies, podcasts, and messages online. Our group is always a click away from a Bible study, sermon, or complete service as our time and space allow,” says D.J. Congregations from the States also sent hymnals. Members of the group also encourage one another to connect with their home churches and home pastors through Facebook and e-mails. Kim and Betsy teach Sunday school, using materials that were left to them or were brought with them.
But it isn’t the same. “It was a culture shock at first to attend a DVD service: watching a pastor on a video, listening to a one-year-old sermon, and singing a cappella without ‘all the fixings’ that a developed church provides,” D.J. remembers.
But they do see a pastor from time to time. With help from the Military Support Committee and the Lutheran Military Support Group, they fund visits from a pastor once every 90 days or so for a weekend retreat. “Imagine having a ‘live’ service with a pastor and Communion only every two or three months! When we have a pastor visit, it is an EVENT!” says Kim. “We have meals, multiple Bible studies, and fellowship outings. We appreciate the things we took for granted back in the States. We look forward to meeting together, and it is such a blessing to look at all the opportunities we have experienced here in Okinawa.” It was a time to remember the Lord’s promise, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
And confirmation? Charles Gumm, pastor at Community, Honolulu, Hawaii, is one of the pastors who visits. He instructed Alex Nash online and confirmed him on May 22, 2016. That’s a confirmation Gumm may never forget. Neither will the others.
In spite of all the challenges, they find blessings. Kim explains, “We were forced to step up and take over roles. Brian has helped with preparing Bible studies and videos. I have helped with Sunday school and music, and the kids have all been put to work in some way or another. In fact, these challenges led to one of the biggest blessings: service. Being able to work as a group and serve others has kept our faith active and alive. We have always felt like part of a true congregation here, one that is made up of friends who quickly became family.”
They encourage and are encouraged by one another. D.J. notes, “One of the positive experiences is seeing young single adult WELS members connect and grow a strong spiritual life being so isolated from other WELS Christians. We became extended family during our tour.”
The lesson is not to give up meeting together. In Okinawa and in other places around the world, there is joy, strength, and comfort in meeting together with fellow Christians. Kim reminds us all about that joy, “Serving others and connecting in person with a small group of like-minded individuals who share the bond of faith is something to be sought and treasured. God has plans for you in every situation in your life. He will use you to bless others and others to bless you.”
Those separated and isolated are grateful for the resources congregations provide online: for the DVDs and online services they make available for those separated by so many miles, for the prayers, and for the weekly military devotion e-mails. The group in Okinawa is grateful for the letters of encouragement too.
Kim returned to the States on vacation and met some of the women from a congregation that puts services and Bible studies online. She says, “I hugged them and told them that we are ‘one of our churches’ while stationed overseas. We are blessed. Keep up the good work.”
D.J. and Betsy Nash and Brian and Kim Page currently live with their families in Okinawa.
The WELS Military Services Committee provides spiritual services to WELS members and others who serve in the United States Armed Forces, including those in the National Guard and the Reserves. The committee carries out its mission through a ministry-by-mail program, a full-time civilian chaplain in Europe, and a national civilian chaplain and liaison to the military. One hundred twenty-two WELS pastors who live near military installations in the continental U.S. and select nations overseas stand ready to serve our military personnel and their families as part-time WELS civilian chaplains. Learn more at wels.net/military.
Do you or someone you know serve in the Armed Forces? Military personnel can receive devotions and other spiritual help materials in the mail or by e-mail. Complete the online referral form at wels.net/refer.
If you can’t make it to church for weekly worship, find a list of online worship sites at welstechwiki.gapps.wels.net/church/online-worship.
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Author: D.J. and Betsy Nash and Brian and Kim Page
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016
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