Across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences we are continuously looking for opportunities for ministry and mission. In unlikely places we often discover a need that we did not know or worse, had known and turned our eyes away. One of the burdens and blessings of our area is that, on the edge of the Clarksville District, is Fort Campbell, which has seen more combat deployments in the past twelve years than any other post in the nation.
While most of the country can afford to look the other way, we in Middle Tennessee cannot. Deployments come regularly and are still coming. Some soldiers deploy multiple times, some as many as 7 of the last 12 years. Every district in the Tennessee Conference is affected because unprecedented numbers of National Guard units have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is much suffering—mostly silent. Most military families don’t speak up. They have learned like their soldiers NOT to ask for help. They learn to “soldier up and move on.” And they feel isolated because so many of the rest of us are able to forget we are a nation still at war.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Brain injuries with memory, balance and vision losses
- Financial problems
- High divorce rates
- High rates of adjustment issues in children and teens
- Depression and substance abuse
We now have children whose parents have been away from them every other year for the past twelve years, children who know about war, serious injury and death in ways their counterparts cannot even imagine. They, like their parents, feel isolated.
We are STILL deploying to Afghanistan and if the war there does end as planned next year, then the real problems will begin because many soldiers and their families will finally have to face the issues they have avoided during the hectic deploy-return-train-redeploy cycles of the past twelve years.
Last November, SAFE: Soldiers And Families Embraced (formerly Lazarus Project) sponsored a gathering of ministers in the Clarksville area. Present were more than 150 lay ministers and clergy from churches of all denominations. However, woefully absent was a United Methodist presence. In fact, only two United Methodist clergy were present.
We look every day for opportunities to share the Gospel. Right before our very eyes, we have men and women who are longing to connect with Christ and the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, men and women who have already shown a desire to sacrifice and be in mission, who struggle with guilt, grief and the need to share stories they fear no one will want to hear. Nothing could energize our United Methodist Men more than connecting older veterans with younger veterans. All that is required is that we listen to what they have to tell us about war and peace.
If you are wondering how to engage with our veterans and their families, contact Rev. Jodi McCullah at Jodi@thesafenetwork.org or visit www.umc.org/military. Please do not wait for another opportunity. The time is now.
* This blog was a collaborative effort between Bishop McAlilly and Rev. Jodi McCullah.