Have you ever
been in a war? I'm not talking about the various elements of
everyday life that are often compared to war; things like: the
weekend sporting event that is spoken of as "going to
war" against the opposing team; the, political arena, in which
certain voting areas become, "key battlegrounds", or
product competition, such as the "cola wars".
No, I am talking about the real battlefield - the
rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, kind of war. If you
have ever served during such a war you might agree with the
observation made by the famous Civil War leader, General William T.
Sherman, who said, "War is hell".
And, as anyone who has served, or has a family member
who has served, in a war zone can tell you, it doesn't simply end
when the soldier leaves the battlefield. As they quickly discover,
"You can take the soldier out of the warzone but you
can't take the warzone out of the soldier."
All soldiers, returning from war, have memories -
experiences - etched into their minds that will forever change
them. As much as we might like to hope otherwise, when they come
home they are not the same person that left to go to war. I know
this to be true.
I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The sounds of
war are still with me. In Iraq, constant mortar attacks along with
rocket attacks kept us alert. Mortar attacks sound a lot like
thunder. When I came home, during a thunder storm my first thoughts
were of a mortar attack. The smells of war also stayed with me.
Even today, several years after the fact, there are times I smell
something similar to what we had in Iraq and I go back to those
War also brings stresses that continue to haunt
soldiers long after they have left the war zone. For example, I saw
and interacted with many Iraqi's. Though most were friendly, we
knew there were a few who probably wanted to kill us. As such we
had to be ever vigilant. The operational stress got to the point
that we were stressed and didn't realize it. Stress became a new
normal for us.
Being a Chaplain, I had it easy compared with many in
Iraq. However, I was constantly made aware of the effects of the
war by my involvement with those who were in combat situations.
These men and women attended services that I led. They came to me
for counseling about the problems they were having back home as
well as those they were experiencing Iraq.
I heard their stories. I listened to them, prayed with
them, and shared the gospel with some. The needs in Iraq were many.
My experiences there are still a part of me, as they are with all
our brave soldiers who served, and continue to serve in that area.
In Afghanistan I was the Forward Operating Base (FOB)
Chaplain. I dealt with the men and women who had problems back
home. One of the units under us woke me up around 2:30 in the
morning. A soldier's wife had been sexually assaulted by his best
friend. Imagine that you are in Afghanistan and get that
word. What do you feel?
He expressed rage - he felt helpless. The unit got him
home as soon as they could but transportation was limited by many
factors; all the more time to stew. What would you say to him? What
could you say?
I was there with him but there was not a lot to be
said. We prayed but I think he was so full of anger and
helplessness at the time he probably didn't hear any of it. I can
understand his feelings. He was thousands of miles from home,
serving his country and wishing he had been home to protect his
Another soldier I knew was in a vehicle targeted by an
IED (improvised explosive device). He was unable to get out of the
vehicle and, though physically unscathed, he was psychologically
impacted by the screams of those within the vehicle. He began to
suffer from panic/anxiety attacks. He came to me for prayer.
Being an officer, he was scheduled to go back to
leading his men outside the FOB. As we met, I shared scripture,
listened, and we prayed. He asked me before he left if he
could have me pray for him and his unit whenever they went outside
the FOB. I said I would be glad to and a week, or so, later he came
by and we prayed.
He seemed to be doing much better after our talk and
his discussions with others. Later that week I got word a group of
soldiers was hit by an IED in an ambush. As was part of my duties,
I went to the Aid Station and saw some of the guys. They told me they
lost a soldier, but I didn't get to see him as he was already
wrapped in a flag to be taken home.
As I listened to the men talk I realized who it was
that died - the officer with whom I had been meeting. Talk about
feeling like the wind was knocked out of me. I just couldn't
believe it....tears came to my eyes as I realized who it was. He
was married and had one child with one more on the way. This was
close to Christmas of 2009. That memory remains with me today; how
much worse it is for his family.
Again, I did not experience a lot of bad things. There
were frontline Chaplains who went through much more than I did; let
alone those who spent most of their time outside the FOB. If
I am affected by this stuff, how much more are the men and women
who regularly served in combat situations?
These memories and experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan
stay with me - the good and the bad. I know what it is to struggle
with them. Some of those who serve, and their families, are so
affected that they cannot continue a regular or routine life. This
battle, or war, or conflict, whatever you want to call it, so
dominates their life that it has a negative effect on their
marriage, children, family, friendships, career, recreational time,
etc. Unfortunately, too often, it ends in divorce, homelessness,
jail, drugs and alcohol abuse, depression and, even, suicide.
I realize this isn't a pretty picture. There is no way
I can paint it as such and be truthful. But, it doesn't have to be
this way. There is another saying in the military, "no
soldier left behind." If a brother in arms goes down
we will get him and bring him home. Many of our soldiers have come
home but are "left behind" in their heart. They are
living in the past and cannot get out of it. We need to bring them
Soldiers have contacted me after they got home to tell
me of their struggles - to seek some consolation. I realize that my
responsibility to help our soldiers, to minister to them, did not
end with my tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why I
know that CrossSwords is needed.
To cross swords is to prepare to duel, to do battle.
While, in a sense, we are preparing to engage in battle with the
problems faced by those who serve, the name CrossSwords means much
more. The "Cross" gives hope that the soldier who travels
from peace into a warzone, can also cross back over. It is the hope
Christ gives that a troubled heart can be changed from turmoil, to
The "Sword" is primarily thought of as a
weapon of the soldier; but it is also used in Scripture to refer to
the authority of the government (Romans 13) to protect its citizens
from enemies outside and inside. Today, this "sword" in
the hands of the government would be the military and police. So,
in a sense, our soldiers are the sword. However, the sword is also
referred to as the Word of God (Eph 6:18; Rev 1:16 etc) - that
which is able to pierce the heart, to give peace and understanding.
The soldier uses his "sword" to protect; the
"sword" of God can be applied to their life to help them
Ultimately, our desire is to help them make the
transition (to successfully and smoothly cross back) to the life
they once knew through the peace that comes from Jesus Christ.
There are four objectives CrossSwords has to accomplish this:
- Introduce the
veteran to Jesus Christ if they don't know Him
- Help the
veteran reframe their experiences in the past with
scripture - help them develop a Christian world view
- Give them
tools and resources to help make a successful reintegration,
(Restoration) and finally,
- Develop a fellowship
of like minded veterans who want to help others connect
and bring them "home." (Provide them a new mission.)
So, here is
our battle, a fight for the heart and soul of America's warriors.
It is imperative that we find a way to reach out to these men and
women and help them make a successful transition back to their
family, and the life they once knew. We must make sure they do not
become casualties, after the fact, as has happened with too many of
our soldiers in previous wars.
The battle is still being fought. Will you join in
If so, then start by praying for our soldiers, those
who are still in active combat situations and those who have
returned from such. Then help them get connected with someone they
can talk to about their struggles.
People who have served on the battlefield are often
reluctant to share with those who do not share this experience; so,
if you know a veteran or service family who is struggling with the
effects of war, refer them to us and we'll try to get them the help
they need. Of course, the greatest hope we can offer is that which
is found in Jesus Christ, who gives rest to all who are weary.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy
laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn
from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and I will give you
rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."