As the master
terrorist who planned and executed the 911 disaster that started us
on a war with extremist jihadists, news that Osama bin Laden had
been killed was welcomed by most Americans. The war he started has
resulted in hundreds of thousands of men and women serving in the
Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force to be deployed, and many
redeployed, to Iraq and Afghanistan. A large portion of them are
Guard and Reservists - thousands of whom have given their lives in
These Guard and Reservists are citizen soldiers, men
and women who have a civilian career and a military career. The
Guard units not only have a federal role but also a state role.
They can be called to duty at a moment's notice to serve almost
anywhere to render almost any service
For example, as I write this I have just learned that
a group of MP's (Military Police) are being mobilized to serve in
the areas being impacted by the floods hitting Mississippi. One of
those called to duty is a young chaplain who, in a few months, will
deploy with his unit to the Middle East.
During times of peace, particularly prior to 9/11,
there may not have been a need to be military-specific in ministry;
however, those days are now over. Think about the Guardsmen or Reservists
who have been deployed at least once. Many today have at least two
and some three or four deployments.
How are they doing? How is their marriage? Are they
employed? How are they spiritually? The stress on these warriors
can be intense. Does your church minister to these men and women;
do you have a plan in place? Is there something you can personally
do to help?
If your church is near a military base you may already
have some things in place to help the vet but what about the
majority of churches that don't have a base nearby? Should they
also consider being ministry-specific to military personnel? I
believe they should. For, while they may not be near a base, most
churches have either retired vets or Guard and Reservists in their
Recently, I read a book that provides excellent
insight about reaching out to our men and women who serve in the
military, along with their families. The book, Beyond the Yellow
Ribbon: Ministering to Returning Combat Veterans (David A.
Thompson and Darlene Wetterstrom, Abington Press, 2009) paints a
broad picture of the soldiers and their families and what they go
through. What I personally like about the book is the
practical tips it gives for ministry.
The "yellow ribbon" has long been a symbol
to the soldier that those at home support him and look forward to
his return. However, the returning soldier needs more than just a
welcome home. Many, if not most, will need help readjusting to the
life they once knew and coping with the stress caused by the experiences
Most pastors and church members have never served in
combat situations and may find it difficult to relate to or
understand the difficulties facing the returning soldier. If you
fall into this category, you may not feel adequate or qualified to
provide such help and be hesitant to begin such a ministry. Don't
I think you will find Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is
an excellent resource to help get your church started thinking
about how and what can be done to help these warriors. The book
covers the following topics:
1. Soldiers and
Their Families in Our Midst: Who Are These People?
2. The Soldiers
Life: Why Is It So Hard to Come Home from War?
Family Challenges: Living in a Warrior Culture.
Wounds of War: Unique Challenges for Wounded War Veterans and Their
Those Who Mourn: Ministering to Families of Military Casualties.
Christian Soldiers: Moral and Spiritual Issues Facing Soldiers and
Feet to Our Faith: Creating a Military Family - friendly Church.
These are Broad topics to be sure but it will help you
to see the big picture. What I want to focus on for the rest of the
review are some practical tips in helping the vet. At
the end of each chapter there are a few tips that you as a church
can implement. After you get a feel for a couple of the tips maybe
you will want to get the book for a broader ministry.
One tip is to start a committee to look into the
military ministry. This committee would try to determine how many
vets and their families are in or around your church. You could
have a military connection night. This would be a time to determine
how many families have friends or relatives in the military or how
many served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, etc. You are looking for very
broad connections. This will give you an idea of the breadth and
depth of military service. Maybe some of the congregation's friends
will also come on military connection night. All of this can
identify and help to surface those who may be struggling - giving
you an opportunity to serve those who served our country.
If your church has access to military Chaplains,
consider using them as a resource to help you. For example,
including me, the church my wife and I attend has three Chaplains
(I am an Army Guard Chaplain and the other two are a Reservist
Chaplain and an Air Guard Chaplain) who can serve as a resource.
Chaplains have resources that could help inform and educate the
If you do not know a Chaplain, perhaps you can find
out who your endorsing agent (the ecclesiastical organization(s) in
your area that endorses those wishing to serve as military
chaplains) is and connect that way to have Chaplains speak at your
church or at a military connection meeting. I spoke at a church
during their mission's week informing the congregation about the
work of Chaplains; particularly those of our denomination. I also
shared about the needs of the men and women and the needs of the
chaplains so they could pray specifically for them.
Having a Chaplain on your prayer list is one way to
continue military ministry. Praying for the vets and chaplains is
vital to the spiritual growth of the ministry. I know how important
it was for me to know churches were lifting me up in prayer when I
was in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even today as I work for the Vet
Center sometimes opportunities arise and I need prayer to minister
Another way to minister is to have someone come in,
such as a State Chaplain, or VA or Vet Rep, who can talk about
resources available to the military community. These can vary
somewhat from State to State, but the State Chaplain or his
representative can tell you the resources they can make available.
For example, some states have a program called
"Partners in Care" in which the National Guard and
faith-groups - churches, synagogues, and mosques - work together to
help veterans. These faith communities agree to help vets and their
families for free. They do not require any kind of commitment by
the vet in need in order to be helped.
The church involved will appoint a Point Person (I
Corinthians 9) with a real interest in the program; perhaps,
because they are a retired vet or have a family member who is
deployed. This Point Person takes responsibility to keep the
participating Chaplains informed and assist the military family get
the help that they need by helping to determine and connect with
available services. Periodically, the Guard Chaplain, can provide
training for participants on various ways they can help.
Many resources are available today due to the Global
War on Terrorism. The VA offers numerous benefits for qualifying
veterans. However, not all benefits apply to every veteran. For
example, some are limited to combat veterans. The returning soldier
will probably need help sifting through these benefits to determine
which are available to him. The Yellow Ribbon program provides this
This is a state sponsored program to inform veterans
of educational resources, health resources, employment
opportunities, etc.; as well as, counseling and medical resources.
This information is provided during their 30 day Yellow Ribbon
program. There is also a 60 day program where some of the
information is repeated and other resources are made available.
Finally, the 90 day Yellow Ribbon program meets at their armory and
serves as a Post Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA).
In this 90 day PDHRA, the medical community looks at
the Guard/Reservists to try and identify those who may have
problems after three months at home. They look at the physical as
well as the psychological side of the veteran.
Another valuable and needed area of ministry centers
upon the family who remains at home while the soldier is deployed. The
family at home is always on the soldier's mind. Life at home goes
on and the one serving abroad is no longer there to help. The
spouse at home must maintain the household without the help of the
one deployed. For many, this also means being a single parent.
The void on the home front is great; the needs are
many. Maybe she/he needs a babysitter or some help around the yard.
Maybe they are lonely and need a friend.
Problems at home, when the soldier is deployed, can
distract the vet. If the vet is distracted, he could make a fatal
mistake. Keeping the home front operating by helping the remaining
spouse can go long ways in ministering to the whole family and
having an impact on them.
Members of your church can help fill this gap. Offer
to help or make repairs around the house. Make sure they are doing
okay financially (sometimes a church can help with a one time gift
to encourage the home front). It really blesses the family and the
soldier to hear that his/her family is doing fine. My wife told me
that one day someone just came up to our yard and mowed it for us
when I was deployed. What a way to help vets and their
The biggest part of ministry to vets is sharing your
faith with them. Many may know Christ. Many may not. This is an
opportunity to let that light shine. Grow them in the local church
and help answer their questions. They may have questions on evil,
or needing forgiveness for something they participated in. A hard
but rewarding aspect is consoling a family who lost their loved one
to an IED in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is an awesome responsibility
to share the gospel and honor the service of the vet.
It is good to "tie a yellow ribbon 'round the old
oak tree" to let returning veterans know they are loved and
were missed. However, there is much more that needs to be done
beyond the yellow ribbon to minister to our returning soldiers. So,
let me ask you again, do you have a plan to provide that help?
I would like to hear what you and your churches are
doing to help vets. Has your church developed a ministry to
vets? What kind of ministry do you have? What are some
"positives" in your ministry you would like to share?
What are some things churches need to watch out for in ministry to
If you are on Facebook, connect with me there and
let's talk. Look for Don Malin on Face Book and request to be a
friend. Let me know you read the article or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, get the book, "Beyond the Yellow
Ribbon," and read it. It will give you much insight into the
veterans and their families as well as ideas for ministry if you
are not already involved.
[Note: If your Church needs help or has questions
about starting a ministry to military personnel, please email us at
email@example.com and let us
know and we will contact you to discuss how our staff can help you
Don Malin has served
two tours of duty in the Middle East as a military chaplain. In
addition to the work he does with the VA, Don serves the
military community as the Executive Director of Cross-Swords, a
ministry of the Crosswinds Foundation.
If you would like to read this as a pdf or print
copies, click the link below:
Beyond the Yellow
Ribbon: Ministering to Returning Combat Veterans by Don Malin