By Vanessa Rasanen
Our nation has been at war for a decade and a half — even if the word “war” isn’t actually used. While our media has slowed in their coverage, many military families continue to face deployments, separation, and hardships.
Now, before you click away thinking this post doesn’t apply to you or your church, not so fast. Whether your congregation is one block or hundreds of miles from the nearest military installation, you may have military and their families in attendance. National guardsmen and reservists often live away from their units, perhaps even in entirely different states. While families differ in their needs and preferences for support, the following tips should help us each be a blessing to those who serve, whether through a deployment or with the general stress and uncertainty of military life.
1) Be Proactive
With many service members being humble regarding their service, they may be unlikely to request support. Do not wait for the service member or their family to approach you. Contact them personally — and privately — to determine how best they can be served. Check in with them regularly as circumstances may change often and with little notice.
2) Be Personal
Everyone is different, especially during a deployment or separation. While one spouse may thrive on daily contact, another may prefer privacy. Tailor support efforts to each individual family depending on their preference and situation. A one-size-fits-all option rarely appeals or benefits all families.
3) Be Consistent
One military wife told me “Fourth of July was overwhelming. Tuesday was lonely.” Military families often receive a great deal of attention around the holidays – especially Thanksgiving and Christmas – when their service member is away. They may feel bombarded with help and attention on those special days, yet forgotten on others. Provide support consistently, and be willing to help outside the obvious times.
4) Be Creative
Since families differ in their needs, plan to offer a variety of services and help. These often cost little more than time and can be done by any member of the congregation willing to volunteer. Pray with the family. Provide meals. Help with yard work and home maintenance. Offer periodic childcare. Give a hand during church service to those with small kids.
Also, remember Tip #1 and be proactive. Offer specific help, avoiding open-ended offers when possible. Rather than saying “Let me know how I can help”, ask “When can I bring you a meal?”
5) Be Understanding
During my husband’s deployment, I found it difficult to attend church, with the empty seat next to me a bitter reminder of his absence. The questions from congregation members about his well being and his homecoming date brought anxiety and did little more than further remind me I was alone. And so I often skipped church. Regretfully.
While there may be times when a family cannot make it to Sunday service, make an effort to help them feel comfortable to attend each week. Remind them of the importance of hearing His Word and receiving the sacraments.
6) Be Honest
Timing is rarely perfect for anyone, but especially for military families. Service members miss significant events – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and even births. Some families may be tempted to postpone events until after the deployment or separation, and while this makes little difference for birthdays, the desire to delay an infant’s baptism must be addressed with honesty and gentleness, firmness and understanding.
Offer to help the absent service member be involved in the service. Video chatting via Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts allows them to attend if their schedule permits, while recording the service allows the family to share the occasion with the service member later. Help the family remember that the baby’s birth doesn’t wait for the deployment to be over, and their baptism shouldn’t either.
Whether Active Duty or Guard/Reserve military families benefit from the support of our church families. With National Guard and Reservists possibly living far from the unit they serve, they may not have many military resources available to them. And while Active Duty families receive a great deal of support from the military, they still need the love and support of their congregation.
As we pray for peace and an end to the current conflicts and evil that plagues our world, let us not forget that even during peacetime our military continues to deploy overseas for various missions around the world. May we always support and serve them as they serve our country.