The congregations in which I grew up didn’t have military families in them like churches in the US seem to. Our first American congregation had one, though, and in the years we were there we were blessed to see first-hand an incredible example of Christian care for each member of a family whose head was fighting overseas for a year.
The care started months before deployment, with many prayers going up for the couple and their three young children. The pastor and his wife spent a lot of time talking with the husband and wife, together and apart, listening to them, encouraging them, and praying with them.
At the deployment ceremony, a couple families from the church came to show their support, and to help the mother care for her children during an incredibly difficult morning.
After deployment, a plan which the elders and deacons had put in place for this military family (who lived far away from their biological families) came into effect:
I. Thursday-Friday of each week, two teenagers from the congregation (two girl friends, two sisters, or a brother and sister) babysat, giving the mother time to shop, run errands, write her husband, or whatever else she couldn’t do with three small children around her knees. These teens also brought or prepared a meal on the Thursday night, got the boys ready for bed, and did anything else that the mother needed help with (grass cutting, snow shoveling, etc.). They would sleep over and get things kick-started in the morning before they left. These were girls who were able to not only deal with energetic kids, but also comfort a mother who was, in a lot of ways, grieving. They knew how to give hugs and biblical encouragement.
II. Every other week, a family from the church hosted the mother and boys for lunch and the afternoon in between services. This allowed her to have help with the kids on a day of rest, fellowship with other adults, and gave her boys interaction with a godly man who knew their dad.
III. As needed at the request of the deacons, men from the church volunteered to fix things around the house that the mother could not easily do herself (cleaning eaves troughs, changing the furnace filter, etc.).
IV. On periodic Saturdays, men and college aged boys from the church volunteered take the three boys out so that they had time with godly men.
V. Every so often, women in the congregation would drop off a babysitter at the house and take the mother out on a girl date – a meal, shopping, or even just a walk – for encouragement and fellowship.
VI. Each week, a family in the congregation sent the husband a card/letter at his base, and the pastor made regular phone contact with the soldier to encourage and counsel him.
VII. When the husband came back for his two week leave, the pastor’s family took the kids for a few nights so that the couple could spend a few days alone together.
VIII. The entire congregation held this family in their daily prayers, and when the husband returned at the end of 12 long months, everybody celebrated with them.
IX. While the husband was settling back into “normal” North American life, the congregation continued its prayers and encouragement, and the pastor provided counsel when needed.
Having a husband or father in the service is a difficult thing, especially during a deployment. Christian congregations are often at a loss to understand or help a family in this trying time. But it’s the time when families need the most help – they are hurting as much as a family who is dealing with cancer is. And because solid, Reformed books on military families and wives are so scarce, a loving congregation who shows their support every way they can is the best help. It’s also a massive witness to other watching military families – one that demonstrates that membership in God’s family is the only thing that is a true help, and that truly matters.