Commentary by Rev. Dr. Mark J. Schreiber
Military planners have often remarked that the best of battle plans never survive first contact with the enemy. No matter how thorough the military strategist, no matter how penetrating the intelligence, no matter how long the experience of the war-gamer, all contingencies and possible responses can never be accounted for. The element of risk and surprise looms large in war, and the best of plans must often be changed on the spot due to unforeseen emergencies and dangerous developments.
We know two things for certain: (1) War changes things. Better said, war changes everything: those who plan it, those who fight it and those who survive it. (2) The Lord has a good plan and good purpose for all members of the military, even as they struggle to understand their place in the conflict around them.
Our nation appears to be on the brink of disengagement from Iraq by the end of 2011. The future is less than certain for Afghanistan, although the desire is just as great. America is war weary. After 10 years of continuous conflict, some 5,200 American lives have been lost and more than 35,000 wounded. The nation is groping on the edge for peace. No war can be sustained indefinitely without the will of the nation behind it. American mothers and fathers, spouses and children want their warriors back.
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synods Ministry to the Armed Forces (MAF) is uniquely poised to offer peacea peace more lasting and efficacious than any cease fireto those desperate to hear it. Indeed, the Church stands ready to share Christs peace, the peace that passes all understanding, with men and women who have known conflict and chaos.
Everyone who returns from a war zone suffers PTS (Post Traumatic Stress). It is simply the nature of the beast. War changes the body chemistry. The body is revved up to fight; its operational tempo is increased and sustained at a higher level than in normal civilian life. Every warrior upon his or her return from the battlefield needs time to decompress, slow down and absorb the impact of war. If PTS is not addressed in this crucial return period, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can often be the result. PTSD will last a lifetime without proper intervention.
What most Americans fail to consider is that when the war is over over there, it still isnt over over here for the veteran. In the veterans heart and mind, in his or her memories and soul, a silent war rages on. The sights, smells and sounds of carnage and destruction, death and dismemberment fill his mind. If there is guilt associated with the event, the trauma is multiplied and relived all over, again and again. Normal everyday stimuli can trigger instant unwanted and unpleasant flashbacks to the war zone.
Such a veteran appears normal on the street, but inside the heart and mind desperately try to grapple with a peace and sanity that so easily slips away. Anger is the new normal in all relationships. The love for family and spouse that once blossomed so romantically now seems a distant fairytale that never happened. PTSD outlives the battlefield like a virulent, hidden virus. It slowly kills love and zest for life.
But these men and women do not have to suffer alone. Ministry to the Armed Forces of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod addressed this problem three years ago. The result? Operation Barnabas. This ministry was created, implemented and supported through MAF on behalf of a caring church body for all our servicemen and women who need to hear of the profound and enduring love of Jesus Christ.
Operation Barnabas is based on the simple principle that veterans talk best with fellow veterans and that ministry to veterans must be personal, one-to-one and Christ-centered. It is led by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Moreno (Naval Reserve Chaplain LCDR), who travels the country answering invitations from our churches to establish local Operation Barnabas chapters. These chapters minister to our veterans in our churches and to all those veterans living in the shadows of our churches. By the grace of God, we have attained great success already with many local chapters now in place and many congregations waiting for guidance.
War is a fact of life, a result of mankinds fall into sin, but it is not the most terrible fact. The failure of any people to defend itself from acts of aggression, thus encouraging more aggression, and the failure to defend the defenseless in their quest for freedom is a far greater and more terrible fact of life. Thanks be to God, Christ does not leave His children alone in this suffering. Instead, He sends pastors, church bodies, a specific ministry called MAF to care for and about those men and women of the armed forces who, with their own sweat, blood and tears have paid the price to keep this nation free.
The end of war is not the end of war. We cannot forget them. We owe them not only honor and respect but also care for the wounded, for their children and for their spouses. To share Christs Gospel with them and, in turn, to care for them both in body and soul will achieve and produce a just and a lasting peace amongst ourselves and with all nations.
God bless you, and God bless America.
About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Mark J. Schreiber CAPT, CHC, USN (Ret.)is director of LCMS World Missions Ministry to the Armed Forces.
For more information about Operation Barnabas and Ministry to the Armed Forces, visit www.lcms.org/armedforces.