Since 1919 or so, America has marked Nov. 11 as a day to celebrate her heroes in the armed forces. Congregations have often noted this initially secular holiday and added their blessings to those who sacrifice their safety for others, a central theme of several faiths.
This year, the Rev. Tim Franklin of Texas City’s The Connection coffee bar and church is one of those hoping to honor veterans with the Family Fall Car festival which will also help Camp Hope. The festival will take place from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at 9300 Emmett F. Lowry Expressway.
“We’ll have the Texas Fallen Heroes Memorial Wall,” Franklin said. “Along with a representative of Camp Hope. Join us in supporting our veterans. All proceeds from this event will be donated to Camp Hope, a treatment facility for veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome.”
This Houston camp helps veterans suffering from combat stress.
But beyond this one day, what can pastors, priests, rabbis and imams do for returning service folk?
Franklin begins with a chat over, of course, custom coffee.
“Through our coffee shop ministry I have been privileged to meet a great number of veterans,” he said. “Some have come back with some physical and emotional trauma that has caused them to struggle with the transition out of the military and back into the civilian world. By far, the most significant thing that I have been able to offer our veterans is a safe place to sit and talk about whatever is on their mind. They want to talk about family, relationship struggles and the lingering effects of the some of the things that happened to them physically. They need to know someone cares about them as a person.”
Lucio Villanueva, a friend of Franklin, served as an army staff sergeant including tours in Iraq. He understands the challenge of parachuting back into a new normal stateside while towing along the baggage brought by the stress of violent warfare.
“It was very hard being a veteran returning from combat, and transitioning into civilian life,” he said. “I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury in 2012 by the Veterans Affairs after many years of denying that I had a problem. I had a lot of guilt, shame, and moral injuries. I felt as if I was not a good person and that my life was meaningless.”
And Villanueva is not alone. The VA reports that around 20 veterans commit suicide daily. Around 550 vets in Texas follow this course every year.
What’s a church to do?
“Church helped me to start the healing process of my moral and spiritual injuries,” Villanueva said. “The church did not judge me, but had compassion on me. The church made me feel comfortable, and to choose the right time to speak about my experiences on my terms. Plus, that I could speak to God about my experiences knowing that he loves me, and forgives me no matter what. I learned to have a relationship with my God and depend on him in my spiritual recovery.”
And Franklin, like bartenders and baristas everywhere, understands that listening is the first step in healing. Even when the problems appear insurmountable.
“Some vets are trying to grasp some deep challenging questions about their faith,” he said. “They cannot figure out where God was in the things they have seen and done.
“They hear, ‘You shall not kill,’ and they need to know they are not going to be condemned by God for the things they have done. They went into the service with a desire to serve and make a difference and in the midst of that service they lost their innocence. And some are struggling with survivor’s guilt. There is no easy answer to their questions, but I have to be willing to listen and help them as they process themselves through the journey they are on.”
While many problems will require professional treatment, others can be addressed by any congregant who is willing to listen and support their fellow believer during their adjustment period.
We’ll give Pastor Tim the last word:
“One key thing we can do as a church, is to find opportunities for them to belong and make a difference,” he said. “These are men and women who served their country in a desire to make a difference, they still want to make a difference, and it is up to us to help open the doors for service.”
Next week in Our Faith: Mid-county radio offers a contemporary Christian station that reaches out 20 miles with local programming.