We have lived in many cities throughout the U.S. We have lived in Ohio, Texas, Maryland, West Virginia, Washington and soon Tennessee, since 2005. My husband has lived in more states than these, including different countries since enlisting in the Army. The point to this is we have attended numerous churches across the country and internationally. Once we receive orders for hubby’s new assignment, one of the first items on our list is researching the churches in the area. It is not easy being the “new kid” anywhere, but it makes it harder if we don’t have a church family to connect with. I have noticed a huge difference in how churches in “military towns” minister to military families than churches located nowhere near military towns.
Prior to my husband’s reassignment overseas, we made a decision toward retirement. We had many plans when we left Washington, as my husband would travel overseas, and I would move back to my hometown and closer to family. I didn’t realize how incredibly difficult it was going to be to go from where we were back to my hometown. Throughout the years, I have learned to bloom where I have been planted. However, this move, mentally, has been quite draining.
As I mentioned, we have lived in many areas and some I have adored and others, well, not so much. There have been pros and cons to each place and memories that I will cherish. Regardless of my feelings toward the area, I will always cherish the relationships I have made. These friendships have lasted throughout the years, and I am truly blessed by each and every one. On my personal Facebook, I have many friends from all over the world. A good number of them are military wives I have had the pleasure of befriending. Military and Civilians look at life differently. So what does a civilian church need to know about military families and how can they help minister to them?
- Military families are not used to taking months, sometimes years, to make connections. In my experiences in civilian churches, people seem to take their time with building relationships and friendships. As a military spouse, months are not a guaranteed because we move all the time. Military spouses understand that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. In fact, one of my best friends moved from Washington to Oklahoma within 6 months of meeting each other. We met at church and became fast friends. We connected on Facebook, texted and called each other, and hung out. Our families did things together outside of church and we became very close. She was my prayer warrior, and I was hers. She moved in January and despite the distance; we are still very close! When a military family attends your church, please do not waste time getting to know them. They are new to the area, even if they are “returning home.” They need people to call, text, invite them places, and get them out of the house. They are not used to having months, sometimes years, to wait on things to happen. Often, they are unsure where they could be used, but military families waste no time jumping right into a ministry to help.
- Military families want to serve. We are unselfish and unwavering in our commitments. One of the issues I have noticed in civilian churches is that many of them have had the SAME people on the SAME committees for years. Military wives are used to throwing themselves into many activities and community service projects simultaneously. When a military family moves to an area that is not predominately military, it is often a difficult adjustment for us. It is a HUGE adjustment to not have a “purpose.” If a military family attends your church, ask them to help. Listen to their ideas. Give them tasks they can do. If there is a new committee that can be started consider asking them to take this on or contribute.
- Military families will not ask for help. Some call this pride, but it’s not. When their husbands deploy for a year, (sometimes more) at a time, military wives have to face challenges alone. They have babies; they take care of sick children on their own while ill themselves. They learn to be plumbers and mechanics, they mow the grass, clean the house, cook dinners, volunteer in youth activities and community projects, they must be both the disciplinarian and loving embrace. Military wives serve their communities and then serve some more. This act of servitude, especially for Christian military wives, is ingrained into their character. I am friends with many civilian wives who serve as much if not more, but military wives often serve while their husbands are at war and in harm’s way, or at training and overseas. Military wives need an outlet to get keep their minds clear and free from the worry. Ask a military wife how she is doing. Ask her to lunch or a playdate with the kids. Ask her to serve in the church and find ways to be a blessing to her. We see the cliché posts on Facebook about supporting the troops, about respecting military families, and even people asking how they can help. If you know a military wife whose husband is overseas, have you showed up with dinner one night? Have you offered to watch her kids so she can get dinner out? Have you showed up when a child is sick to pray in person or hold her hand? Military wives will not ask for help because we’re not used to receiving help from the civilian sector. I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh, but it is true. Military wives are a rare breed who grow accustomed to doing it alone. As I mentioned before, military wives are not used to taking months, sometimes years, to make connections and grow friendships. We know our time is limited with one another, and we dive right into a friendship head first. Yet, it’s those fast-made friendships that last. Those same friends are the ones who drive the wife and sick child to the hospital in the middle of the night, then run back with the rest of the kids and watch them until Mom gets back. They are the ones offering to run over Sprite or medicine. They are the ones who are dropping food off without being asked, asking other kids over for playdates to get them out of the house. They don’t wait for the spouse to ask for help, they just do it anyway because she would do the same thing for you. Friends, if you have a military spouse in your church—find ways to do some of these things. If you ask her if she needs help, she will tell you no. Because in truth, she doesn’t. She is perfectly fine to carry on, alone. Yet, she will never turn away a helping hand. I ask you, what does Jesus say about serving others?
- I know many churches have a food train committee. This committee is usually comprised of several ladies who organize dinners when someone passes away; there is a sickness, or there is someone who has had a baby. However, there are churches who organize food trains for the spouse and children when a military member deploys. I cannot tell you what a blessing this is! I can tell you from personal experience that it is difficult to focus on dinner, grocery shopping and everything in between for days, sometimes weeks, after my husband has deployed. Eventually, I had to snap out of my depression because I had to carry on for the sake of my children. Also, I can not put into words the blessings received when ladies from the church brought food! I recently asked several military wives about ways churches, specifically in non-military towns, could bless military and this is one that repeated. One lady said that she knew of a church that did a food train for eight weeks after a deployment! Now, I don’t think it has to be that long at all but I was blown away.
- Learn your subject. Friends, in order to learn more about Jesus we must study the Bible and immerse ourselves in His Word. If we want to learn more about history, we study history. The same goes for the military and spouses. If you have even just ONE military family in your church, it is important to get to know them, to learn about them. There are many books out which I will be sharing in another post that are great resources for Pastors, Deacons, church committees, and so on, to read which will help them learn the best ways to serve the military and their families. One of the best ways I can honestly think of though is to ask. However, be prepared to hear the answers because you may not like them. It may also encourage a positive change in your church. Military families sacrifice so much, but if you truly want to support the troops and want to help, take time to support those who they leave behind. I can say speaking for my husband personally; he is much better able to focus on his mission and his tasks while away if he knows I have a good support group and resources available. It takes a huge worry off his shoulders.
- Stop empty platitudes. I know this may strike a chord with many but if you say you’re praying for someone, you really need to mean it. Post your Facebook comment but then immediately pray for them. Write their name down and pray for them during your prayer times. Use Facebook as a tool. Many people post their thoughts, struggles, triumphs, and unique situations they are currently facing on Facebook. Use that as a chance to serve. Do they seem stressed out? What can you do to help? Remember, most military wives won’t ask for help, so you have to think outside the box and make the first move. Can you take her kids for a while? Schedule a play date? Can the church congregation assist with chores like mowing lawns, minor house repairs, minor car maintenance, etc.? What about babysitting her children so she can go out to eat with friends and just get away? This small gesture is significant with a military spouse, and she will beg you to watch your children so you can have a date with your husband. A military spouse will not accept no for an answer. The food chain is great as well, especially if she has sick kids or other emergency situations.
- One other suggestion I got for churches from military wives is that all church events should have childcare available. Many military spouses just don’t have others to watch their kids, especially if they are new to the area. So having child care available is a huge relief to them and allows them to plug-in to more church activities.
We are all busy. We all have our own lives and honestly, your family is your ministry first. However, I think all of us, myself included, can reach out to military and find out ways to serve the spouse. The Pastor of our previous church in Washington is retired military. We won’t mention he was in the Navy instead of Army, HAHA! Kidding!!! The church was such a blessing to us! They were always there for any need. If one was sick, someone showed up at the door, called, texted, offered any help they could. One time when Clay was away for a few months at training, it seemed EVERYTHING had gone wrong. Furniture was breaking, and my landlords were coming by for an inspection. Isn’t that just how it works? Long story short, it wasn’t long before half the church was in my house. They all helped me work to get repairs made quickly. Then we had pizza and fellowship afterwards. This church was very close to a military post, had a Pastor, who was retired military, it also had many others who were Veterans. When they say, ANYTHING you need, you let us know. They meant it. Even though I never asked for help, they were always there. They did not wait for me to ask. They got to know us, to know our needs.
Here are some helpful links:
PS: You may be interested in my review of Wounded Warrior’s Wife by Hannah Conway. You can read that review HERE.
Laura Prater is a long time Army wife, her husband just retired after 20 years Active Duty this past July. She, her husband, and family are still very active in the military community. Laura is an area volunteer for National Military Family Association and also contributes occasionally to MilitaryOneClick as part of their Blogger Brigade. In addition to all this Laura is a homeschool mom to their three boys. You can find Laura sharing her favorite recipes and chatting about faith, family, all things homemaking, and homeschool over at her other website www.awefilledhomemaker.com