Millions of our men and women are veterans. Some of our pastors and their family members serve the military as well.Clergy families are not exempt.Some have been deployed (multiple times) to Iraq and Afghanistan recently, some are retired military, and some continue to serve in the Reserves. Over 6,600 warriors have died and will not return at all. More that 48,000 have sustained war injuries and 45,000 are returning with Purple Hearts. But all returning service members and their families will experience the challenge of re-entry as they leave the war zone and their buddies to return to a new normal.
As you may have heard in the media, there is a serious issue regarding veterans and suicide. War is not a spectator sport. It harms everyone involved, even those who are there to help. Yet, we are fortunate that our soldiers can come home to peace.
Churches are in a unique position to help. While Vet Centers are helpful (1-877-War-Vets; www.vetcenter.va.gov), they do not have the reach of churches. There are churches everywhere. If you want to help, contact our United Methodist Endorsing Agency at www.gbhem.org. They have some excellent resources and suggestions. Pastors and other caregivers can also need help. Often the helpers are the last to recognize their own struggles and needs.
What do our returning warriors need? Welcome, hospitality, a pat on the back, a listening ear, prayer; but also there's a good chance they will also need a job. There is also a good chance that they will return with some kind of injury (physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and/or moral).
Here are a couple things any church can do: offer healing services, preach and teach about forgiveness, pray for them as part of the pastoral prayer. But here are also some things you don't want to say:
"How was the war?" "Did you kill anyone?" "Did you see anyone die?" "Were you scared?" "Did you lose buddies over there?" These questions are certainly not for casual conversation at the fellowship dinner.
There are literally tons of resources. If you need help finding them, let me know.