Yesterday morning, I conversed briefly with an older member of the church I attend after our worship service concluded. Near the end of the service, the song director asked military veterans to stand and the congregation then concluded the service with a prayer song: “God Bless America.” The older brother in Christ told me that he had been in the U.S. Army during World War II and had been a Prisoner of War for about two months in 1945 after his capture by German forces. The horrible experience still scars him. He is not unique. While many military personnel return from combat zones reasonably healthy in mind and body, others bear scars they will never lose. We notice some quickly. They lost an arm or a leg; their faces still are scarred by burns from an explosion. Others have emotional scars. They witnessed charred remains of other Soldiers or were tortured as prisoners of war. Some may have performed acts for which they’re still ashamed, even though Christ forgave them long ago. Still others returned and have had trouble finding employment. They range from young enlisted Soldiers with high school diplomas to medical officers and chaplains with doctorates and master’s degrees. These too suffer; many occupied positions of great responsibility and supervised numbers of others in a combat zone, but now that they’re back home, they discover that potential employers don’t understand the skills and the leadership experience they gained. All these veterans hurt and may wonder if anyone really cares.
On this Veterans Day, I ask, “How may we honor these men and women who volunteered to go where they might die in the service of our country, of us who live in the same nation?” This question applies also to Christians and military veterans in other nations. I mentioned already how our congregation concluded the service. Members also put together an eleven minute video with then-and-now pictures of veterans in the congregation which aired after the service. Another congregation hosted a breakfast for veterans and their wives as well as widow(er)s of military personnel. Some congregations invite veterans to lead the services on such days. These gestures help those who have deployed far away to reintegrate and to regain a sense of belonging once again. More help may be needed.
A disturbing number of people who laid their lives on the line for us live homeless on our streets. They need different kinds of help; they’re homeless for diverse reasons. Some need mental health or substance abuse counseling. Others need vocational training, clothing, food, and a place to stay. They all need for someone to demonstrate compassion and to take initiative to help them. Again, some of these may even show up at your church’s worship services. You may wonder what happened to the young woman who used to sit in that pew after she returned from Iraq.
Some veterans just need an opportunity to contribute. The reserve component chaplain who lost his preaching or teaching position when he deployed needs opportunities to serve. If the chaplain, medical doctor, or commander was/is a senior officer, they supervised what equates to a very large congregation’s worship and education activities, a missions organization, a small hospital, or a medium size business. They have real skills that the church and the community need. They may have lost the connections or (after their return) the confidence to gain appropriate employment to use those skills. They also may have had some of the traumatic experiences described above.
I asked, “How may we honor these veterans?” Others question whether we should even though months ago they asserted, “We support the troops.” If you support the troops, now you have the opportunity to prove it. Thousands are returning to our communities and our churches. How will you prepare yourself and your congregation to help these veterans and their families? Jesus demonstrated compassion and healing throughout his ministry. Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Peter all interacted directly with soldiers; they addressed their medical, financial/ethical, and spiritual concerns. How will you honor our military veterans?