“Operation Barnabas,” the two-year-old LCMS program that’s designed to support Lutheran chaplains and reserve soldiers who are called to wartime duty, is sponsoring one-day workshops for pastors and laypeople who want to start such ministries in their congregations.
The first workshop was held in September in Springfield, Va. Three more are scheduled for:
- Oct. 24 in Long Beach, Calif.;
- Nov. 21 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and
- Jan. 16 in Plano, Texas.
The workshops lead participants through a deployment process — “what it’s like to be deployed, and also, how a congregation can reach out and help during that time,” according to Operation Barnabas Director Mike Moreno.
Making congregations more aware of soldiers’ and their families’ “needs and situations” — before deployment, during deployment, and after deployment — is key, says Moreno, a reservist since 1989 who was on active duty from 1999 to 2007. Currently, he is regimental chaplain for 24th Marines, Kansas City, Mo., with responsibility for more than 5,000 Marines and their families.
Lots of churches send well-received “care packages” to soldiers who are serving in foreign lands such as Iraq or Afghanistan, he notes, but “is there a care package when a soldier comes home?”
Soldiers returning from a war zone may wonder, “Is there a care package when I have sleepless nights? Is there a care package when my wife and I are still not quite settling in just yet? Is there a care package that helps me somehow recapture the six months I didn’t have with my newborn?
“Those are some of the things on my heart, and I’d like to speak to someone about them,” a soldier may think. “Does your church have a care package for that?”
“With this training,” says Moreno, “you do.”
Nancy Rueter of Stafford, Va., attended the first Operation Barnabas workshop, Sept. 26 near Washington, D.C. The training highlighted for her “the needs of military families, especially as their husbands or their wives are deployed, in that there are so many things that we can do as a church to be able to support them.”
Those ideally suited for such congregational ministries are veterans and family members of soldiers who have returned from war, since they “can call upon their experience and their resources” as they assist other military families, Moreno said.
Today’s soldiers “need our prayers. They need our support. As do their families, as do those children who come home every day from school and mom or dad is not there,” Moreno told Reporter. “They need the Gospel. They need the sure, certain knowledge that someone cares for them deeply.”
LCMS congregations can reach out to their members who are serving in the armed forces, as well as to non-members in their communities, by offering such things as free child care, lawn care, car care — real helps that churches can provide, according to their members’ gifts and talents.
Even if you don’t have an auto mechanic in your congregation, your members can help pay for a military family’s car care, notes Moreno. “The means by which people can reach out are myriad, and it’s only limited by their imagination,” he said.
Moreno served as a Marine chaplain in Iraq in 2003, an experience he describes as “surreal” and “life-changing.”
One squad he was serving came under fire from a house, so the Marines destroyed the house. Later, they found out that a pregnant woman was in the house and was killed, which made them feel “incredibly guilty.”
As chaplain, Moreno’s mission was “letting them know that in the midst of this hell that God is there,” he said.
Providing support to soldiers on the battlefield isn’t so different from providing support to them on the homefront, he noted.
“Our Marines, our sailors, and our airmen, on a daily basis, say ‘Lord help me.’ And the Lord’s answer may very well be the actions of our congregations.”
In November, the Web site is expected to have an online form that can be used to provide information about LCMS members who are serving in the military, so that they can receive information about nearby chaplains and congregations and request devotional resources.
Posted Oct. 15, 2009