The Rev. Jeff Struecker says a lot of local churches consider themselves to be military friendly but most are not doing nearly enough for soldiers and their families.
“I would like to see them double their efforts,” Struecker said Wednesday at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus where he is an associate pastor.
This week, Calvary was host to about 30 members of the local clergy at a “Ministry to the Military” conference. There, it was discussed how churches can do more.
Struecker spent just under 23 years in the military and served 14 years of that at Fort Benning. He served as an Army Ranger fighting in places such as Somalia and Afghanistan. He spent his last 10 years as a chaplain.
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Those attending the conference were told that helping soldiers and their families is not about increasing attendance at their church, it is the right thing to do.
“When soldiers are deployed, they want someone to support them and care for their family,” Calvary’s pastor, the Rev. Don Wilhite said.
Penny Neff, the founder of Four Star Soldier Fellowship, an organization supporting the military, came from Rockport, Texas, to speak.
“Serving soldiers is the greatest ministry,” she told her audience.
She echoed Struecker’s reason for clergy to be at the conference. Of the soldiers, she said, “We want them to come to Jesus Christ not the church.”
She spoke about the difficulties of military spouses being left alone during a deployment with all the responsibilities of running a family.
“Soldiers want to be deployed,” she said. “That is their job. They can do that job better if they know somebody is taking care of their family.”
That can mean a church sending people to a home to clean, cook, do yard work or run errands. It can mean sending cards to children for birthdays and other special occasions.
She said church members and military families who share similar interests or hobbies can work to form a friendship.
When a spouse needs help, Neff said, “have somebody step up to the plate.”
She said many Army spouses suffer from anxiety and loneliness.
The worst time can be after the children go to sleep and the spouse has more time to think, she said.
There can be extreme emotional stress and depression some brought on by constant worry.
“Serving families can be exhausting,” she said, but added that the reward is great.
Col. Thomas MacGregor, head chaplain at Fort Benning is the son of an Army chaplain.
He told those gathered that true hospitality is helping those, “you may never see again,” which is the case with soldiers who move often.
MacGregor said churches should not only help current soldiers but find people who are veterans or related to veterans. “Some of these folks are really suffering,” he said.
MacGregor gave an example of a way someone could help an Army spouse. He suggested hosting relatives of a soldier who may be visiting and may need a place to stay.
He also suggested quarterly dinners at the church for those who have a spouse deployed.
MacGregor agreed with Neff about the need to help with tasks around a home. He said churches need to provide more than a “spiritual presence.”
Streucker said there is, however, a very strong spiritual reason to help the soldiers.
That is the spreading of the gospel.
He said U.S. soldiers are stationed in about 140 countries. They can reach a lot of people.
“How do you get the gospel into countries that are hostile to Christianity?” he asked the participants.
He answered his own question by saying you have soldiers “carry the gospel with them.”
“Soldiers can be transforming lives around the world,” Streucker said.