by Sandra Wood
Dianne Schultz came up with the idea to make her granddaughter a T-shirt with her dad’s picture on it while he was serving in Iraq in 2003. She didn’t know God would use her inspiration to affect so many others throughout her community.
Schultz and her daughter, Darla Bubar, worked with a team of men and women at their church–-St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran in Lockport, N.Y.–dedicated to supporting the families of their troops.
The T-shirt idea spawned an idea for pillowcases, and that grew into an idea for having meet-and-greets.
“Before we knew it, Operation Enduring Comfort was born,” Bubar says.
Since then, they’ve made T-shirts, pillowcases, prayer pins, and Comfort Buddy dolls for troops and families all over the country.
“When we began this venture we had no idea of the magnitude of its reach,” Schultz says. “We currently are sending orders to families from all over the U.S.A. Each letter we receive serves to remind us how God works in and through all of us.”
St. Peter was one of the first churches to receive ministry support from Operation Barnabas, the LCMS program to minister to reserve chaplains, all military members of our congregations, and the many veterans who live in the shadow of our churches but never attend.
“Operation Barnabas is designed to reach out with the Gospel of our Lord, and by His grace bring our servicemen and women back to the cross and the empty tomb,” says Chaplain Mark Schreiber, director of Ministry to the Armed Forces. “Operation Enduring Comfort is a primary example of what can happen in the local congregation when they are trained and motivated by Operation Barnabas to reach out to the military members in their midst.”
Here are stories of some of the lives touched by the program:
Rebecca Sparacino spent 21 years in the Army Reserve and is married to a National Guard soldier who deployed to Afghanistan the same time Rev. Alexander Knowles, pastor of St. Peter did.
“While we did attend events at our church that were emotionally supportive, I felt I needed something more … in the sense of being with a group of individuals who were experiencing what I was–at times excessive worry over the events that were happening overseas; feelings of loneliness; feelings of apprehension; feelings of living in a neighborhood where no one really understood what our family was going through. …
“The programs I attended made me feel … like my sacrifices–being without my spouse, being a ‘single’ parent, maintaining a household, holding the family together–were valued and extremely important to the welfare of our nation.
“They also made my daughter feel important–she was with other children who were in the same situation that she was. She and I loved attending events together, but more importantly, she loved being with those children. She instantly bonded with them and looked forward to the events. One of the biggest challenges for me was that, although she had a lot of friends, they all seemed to avoid her when her dad deployed. She was missing interaction with children her age.
“I did attend several ‘Enduring Comfort’ events, but besides the events there were also the other things they provided–like the prayer pins, the pillowcases for both soldiers and family members, the T-shirts if requested and my favorite–the Comfort Buddies, a miniature version of your soldier–as well as a feeling of genuine concern for our well-being. …
“The bottom line is, deployment is difficult but not unmanageable when you know there are people out there who can help lighten the load. The simple act of kindness like the Mother’s Day Tea we attended, where I had the opportunity to interact with other wives/spouses and my daughter to interact with other children made us stronger in our resolve to do our part to become a member of the ‘Army Team’ as a spouse and a child. We felt like we were important, we were validated, that our role in the deployment was to keep ‘the home fires burning,’ and do it with a smile and love in our hearts!
“Enduring Comfort made that possible. We are truly blessed to have been a part of it, and although words may not be able to convey the importance of this program, it was extremely important in helping us deal with deployment.”
Stacy Hoover is a National Guard wife. Her husband was deployed to Iraq just after Christmas last year.
“I had never known deployment. … I had a then 3-year-old who cried and sobbed for her daddy daily. …
“After a visit to one of Operation Enduring Comfort’s functions, a sense of worry and stress seemed to be lifted. It gave my daughter other children (friends) that were in the same situation to comfort her, which was my main concern. She talked more openly and was able to understand (as much as a 3-year-old could) that daddy was far away but loved her very much and that God would protect him. When we went to these events, I was able to sit and talk with others, learn about other resources that I may need, and really just to relax, knowing my daughter is taken care of, and that she was actually having fun with others and talking about her ‘Brave Daddy.’
“The events may have just been coffee and donuts, or dinner, and then Easter and Christmas parties, but big or small, they all were a huge comfort to us. My husband came home in late May. He was able to come and see what we talked about so frequently. … It brought tears to his eyes to see such unity, such caring, and moreover, such devotion.
“Just to create a bond with strangers in the same situation was scary at first, but then, absolutely refreshing. We gave each other hope to continue every day, knowing the ultimate goal was the same: To have our loved ones home safe and sound. …
“I cannot say enough to you, to tell you how much this program was a benefit, and a comfort to my entire family. I think my husband felt the biggest relief, knowing there were a whole group of people taking care of us.”
Rebecca Slater Chapman took her 2-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son to Take-A-Break events while her husband was deployed.
“It was a wonderful time of fellowship and fun activities for the kids. The children were able to meet other kids that were going through the same issues of dealing with deployments as they were. I was able to network to meet other Christian military spouses that I could relate to as well.
“Mayanna had been sick quite often during the deployment. We found out in September she had to have surgery. Being 2 years old, she, of course, wanted her daddy and not mommy. I contacted Operation Enduring Comfort to see if they could make her a Comfort Buddy of her daddy to take to the hospital with her. They made each of the kids one and had it to us just in time for the surgery. We headed off to the hospital with ‘daddy’ in tote. They put her nametag on him just like her ID bracelet, just in case he got lost, and off to the O.R. they went hand-in-hand. Her ‘daddy’ was one of the first things she asked for when she woke up. We were able to go home that day but had to return the next day due to complications from the surgery. We spent another five days there until she was ready to come home. Operation Enduring Comfort made it possible for my husband to be there with our daughter even though he physically couldn’t be there.”
Kimberly Black’s husband is a sergeant in the New York National Guard (AGR). She has three children, 6, 4, and 21 months.
“We came to a function once, and the baby was only a couple months old. Kevin was in Afghanistan. I had never had a migraine, but I had one. I started to pass out, and the people there not only took care of me, they took care of my kids. They got me home. They not only kept my kids, they got fed, snacks, and made crafts.
“It was a very secure, loving environment, with lots of supervision for kids.
“You can talk to other people, and they know where you’re coming from. The civilians there did all the things like keeping an eye on the kids, making coffee, cleaning up–all those things that you as a military family do 24/7. It makes a difference to go where you can just relax. So civilians did huge things for somebody who does everything when your family is gone.
“It’s making a military family feeling comfortable enough they can ask for help.”