Tag Archives: Christianity

Where Soldiers Find Peace

It’s a long way from the dusty battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the crystalline waters of Lake Clark in the mountains of Alaska. But every summer since 2012, hundreds of current and former members of the military and their spouses make their way there through Operation Heal Our Patriots, a ministry of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.

Many of these veterans arrive at Samaritan Lodge dealing with the aftermath of their service to our nation—wounded in their bodies, minds and spirits. The stress of learning to adjust to civilian life with their families and dealing with new physical limitations caused by injuries puts a strain on military couples. Many of them don’t make it. The ministry began as a way to reach out to these battle-weary soldiers and their spouses and help them refocus on building and maintaining strong marriages. Some couples, on the verge of divorce, find a new love for each other as they spend a week experiencing the natural beauty of Alaska and attending Bible-based marriage enrichment classes. Retired military chaplains are on staff to encourage and pray with attendees. Operation Heal Our Patriot marriage retreats often end with vow renewals for many of the couples, as well as baptisms for those who are either re-dedicating their lives to Jesus Christ or finding Him for the first time.

One couple who found respite during their time in Alaska is Army Staff Sergeant Juan Montealvo and his wife Tanya. A few days before Christmas in 2004, Montealvo was on a mission to deliver school supplies to Iraqi children in Mosul when a bomb planted by insurgents exploded near his vehicle. He survived that and several other explosions during his three combat tours to Iraq, and when he came home for good in 2010, Tanya noticed he wasn’t quite himself. Montealvo was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and went through physical and speech therapy. Tanya became his care-giver, and the strain of adapting to their new normal was something they never prepared themselves to handle.

When Tanya heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots, she believed it was an answer to their prayers and said, “Our souls, our spirits, our minds needed this to reset…I’m ready for a new beginning with my husband, walking along with Jesus.”

The ministry doesn’t end once these families leave Alaska, however. Ongoing outreach helps them to find a church or military chaplain in their local communities so they can develop a strong network of support. Reunions are also held at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in North Carolina so that participants can make new friendships and renew those they made in the Alaskan wilderness. All of this—including travel to Alaska—is free to the couples and is made possible by donations to Samaritan’s Purse/ Operation Heal Our Patriots.

This ministry is open to all current and former veterans who have served since September 11, 2001. Interested couples can go to the Samaritan’s Purse website to fill out an application. If you’d like to help send these brave American heroes to Lake Clark next summer, please consider making a donation on the website. What better way to say “thank you” to them this Veterans Day?

Wedding vow renewal ceremonies are common during Operation Heal Our Patriot's Alaskan retreats.- Courtesy SamaritansPurse.org

Wedding vow renewal ceremonies are common during Operation Heal Our Patriot’s Alaskan retreats.- Courtesy SamaritansPurse.org

Advertisements

The Day of the Son

Every year since 1997, people in North Korea have celebrated April 15th as “The Day of the Sun”. It’s apparently the most important holiday the nation has where they celebrate the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday.  He was the founder of North Korea and its former president, who—were he still alive and kicking—would be 105 years old.

The citizens of North Korea go all out for The Day of the Sun with a big parade where children get candy. But don’t look for floats made of paper flowers or clowns from the Shriner’s Club trying to get some laughs out of spectators by driving around in tiny cars.  This parade is highlighted by showing off its weapons of war.  Lots of them. Current president Kim Jong Un was there and he’s all about the fire power.

As all this took place yesterday, Christians here and around the world prepared to celebrate a different kind of power—the resurrection power of Jesus Christ—on this day, Easter Sunday.  After remembering his suffering and violent death on Good Friday, we wait through the silence of Saturday to get to the joy of Sunday morning.

What a striking contrast of two celebrations.  One that remembers a man who started a communist nation and celebrates by flaunting its military might that could wipe out millions of lives in mere moments.  The other, held in gratitude and remembrance for a man who was God in the flesh—Jesus, the Son of God.  Believers all over the world celebrate not so much the death of Jesus, but His life.  What makes it so different is the empty tomb.

The man celebrated by North Koreans this weekend died and he stayed dead.  His bones are still lying in his grave. But, with the power of God His Father, Jesus the Son rose again on the third day, and the Good News is—He’s alive and His Spirit lives in anyone who puts their faith in Him to forgive their sins.  Jesus, the One Who Saves, beat death once and for all…and because of Him, so can we.

Now that’s real power—and that’s something to celebrate.

Happy Easter!

Out of the Ashes

The Cross at Ground Zero in June 2002

The Cross at Ground Zero in June 2002

On September 11, 2001 Sujo John sat at his desk on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. He could hardly believe what the past several months had brought. Having wed Mary in January of 2000, he was still a newlywed and she was four months pregnant with their first child.  Just six months before, the two had left their native Calcutta, India with only $50, a couple of suitcases and dreams of a better, more prosperous life in the United States. In that short time in America, the two had landed good jobs.  Mary worked nearby—on the 71st floor of the WTC’s South Tower.

As he sat typing an email to a friend from church, Sujo confided that he believed God wanted more for him. Having read the Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson, Sujo wrote, “I’ve been chasing stuff in America. I want to be used of God.”  He finished his email and hit “send”.  It was 8:05 on a beautiful Tuesday morning, and it was time to start working. About 40 minutes later, Sujo was sending a fax and heard a huge explosion that we now know was American Airlines Flight 11 striking the North Tower between the 94th and 98th floors.

Down on his floor, Sujo watched as the world seemed to crumble around him- a huge hole allowed him to see ten floors up.  The building shook violently, walls started to fall apart and jet fuel from the planes caused fires to break out everywhere, making every minute more treacherous for those in the building. Sujo made his way to the stairs along with his co-workers and thousands of other workers in the building.  He remembers the people’s faces saying the “fear of death was written on the face of everyone.”

A short time later, he heard another loud crash when United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower around the 81st floor, just ten floors up from where Mary worked.  Wondering whether he would get out alive, he was now more worried about what was happening with her.  Sujo tried to use his cell phone and those of people escaping down the stairs with him, but he couldn’t get through to her.  By the time he made it to the ground level of the tower, an area called The Plaza, the horrors of that day really hit Sujo.  Normally, The Plaza was a bustling, lively place, but what Sujo saw was beyond human comprehension.  He said, “This place of life, this place of just exuberance where life would be celebrated has now been turned into a place of death, a place of destruction, as I see hundreds of bodies of people that jumped out of those buildings, people who were in those planes.”

As time ticked away and he made his way through the chaos, away from the North Tower towards the South Tower, he felt the ground beneath his feet begin to rumble. Sujo described feeling as if he were being “sucked into a vacuum” as he heard the roar as the upper floors of the South Tower began to crumble.  He stopped momentarily and huddled with a group of 15 or 20 people and suddenly became very concerned of what would become of them if they all died without hearing about Jesus.

Until this point in his life, Sujo described himself as a “closet Christian”, keeping his faith to himself and never sharing what he believed about Jesus Christ.  Now facing death, Sujo found a boldness he never had and began praying out loud, crying out the name of Jesus.  He then realized those people he was with were also joining him in unison as he prayed.  He went on from there, stumbling through the dust and debris, covered in soot and wondering what became of Mary.

After the dust settled somewhat, Sujo decided to try to crawl back to the group of people he had prayed with a short time earlier, only to find they had not made it, and had been crushed by the hurricane-force wind and debris cloud caused by the South Tower’s collapse.  Downhearted and questioning God as to why He would allow him to survive and not them, Sujo said he felt God’s presence and believed those people were at peace now.  After the North Tower followed its twin and imploded, Sujo was shocked and couldn’t believe he was still alive.  He found himself out in the street, certain his beloved Mary was gone.

After wandering into a shop, he met a young woman who helped pull bits of glass out of his hair and offered to call someone for him.  Just as he handed his phone to her, it began to ring for the first time in many hours.  It was about noon by this time, and the clerk handed the phone back to Sujo.  The caller ID said it was from Mary’s number, but he was certain it was going to be the worst news…that someone was calling from her phone to let him know she didn’t survive.

He was wrong.  When he answered, he heard Mary’s voice.  She told him she had wanted to get to work early that day, but ended up running late.  When they reunited that night, they made a vow to each other and to God that they would make every day of their lives count.  Sujo prayed for God to “rewrite the history of my life”.  He knew that he and Mary had not come to America just to make money, pursue success or have financial security.  He believed that what was important to God was people…all people.

Fifteen years later, Sujo and Mary live near Dallas with their three children and have started an organization called You Can Free Us.  This organization works to abolish the modern-day slavery of human trafficking by rescuing women and children forced into prostitution in the U.S. and around the world. As 21st century abolitionists, Sujo and Mary have made good on their promise to God and have taken their message of survival and hope to people of all ages all over the world.

Sujo, Mary and their children

Sujo, Mary and their children

Interview With a Songwriter- “One Nation Over God”

One Nation Over God grfx

As we celebrate the 240th birthday of the U.S.A., we’re standing on the brink of another presidential election, terrorist threats now loom regularly here and abroad, and many feel like there’s no reason to trust that God’s got this anymore. Have the American people—as a whole—declared their independence from what our Founding Fathers often referred to as “Divine Providence”?

Recently, Nashville singer and songwriter Stephanie Layne took a few minutes to answer some questions about a song she co-wrote titled “One Nation Over God” that talks about this very idea of our nation being much different than what the Founders had in mind in 1776.

Liberty Bell Blog: How did “One Nation Over God” come about?

Stephanie Layne: Heading into a presidential election year, we were discussing the political and moral climate in which we found ourselves. When we got around to throwing out potential song ideas, I said, “What do you think about One Nation Over God”?  It was one of those rare moments when there was no hesitation for any of us. That’s the song we wanted to write!  There are a lot of people in this country who have a growing sense of loss, sadness, and even outrage that the fundamental ideals upon which this country was founded and became a great nation have slowly eroded– and now are even being brazenly cast aside.  We wanted to take a stand with Americans who believe we are headed down the wrong path. This song is our way of letting our voice be heard, but is also offered in the hope of stirring the voices of so many in this country who want to speak up and stand up for the ideals and values that have characterized America for almost two and a half centuries.

LBB: Who was involved with you in writing this song?

SL:  Debbie Hall, Jason Wyatt, and Monte King, all Nashville songwriters. I’ve been writing with these great friends and songwriters for years.

LBB:  What kind of reception has the song gotten so far?

SL: “One Nation Over God” resonated so much with the message of North Carolina Congressional candidate Chris Hardin’s movement that he adopted the song as an official campaign to rally supporters. Sadly, he recently lost in the primary.

LBBThere’s one part where it says “under-educated, making choices we can’t take back” that really stuck with me…I’d be interested to hear what inspired that part?

SL:  We were concerned about some of the bad choices our government has made that could jeopardize the safety and security of American citizens.  Also the school systems are not up to the standards of other countries.  Many Americans are uninformed, being taught political correctness and socialistic ideas rather than hitting on math and history, and especially ignorant of the U.S. Constitution.

LBBWhat do you hope will happen with this song?

SL:  This song is my ministry. Our goal is to make people think and understand that morally, spiritually, and ethically we’re headed down the wrong path…that we need to get back to being a country that is One Nation Under God. We would love a commercial country or Christian cut.  To hear it on the radio as a number one single would be an amazing dream come true.  The song has been pitched to Franklin Graham, Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity, Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, Chris Tomlin, Darryl Worley, and Andy Griggs.

LBB:  Any plans for a video? 

SL:  U.S. Congressional candidate Chris Hardin made a campaign YouTube video in his hometown that has received almost 9K views.  Jason Wyatt’s church in Texas made a lyric video that has received almost 8K views.  We have plans to produce our Official “One Nation Over God” music video in the near future.

LBBWill you be performing it this summer anywhere?

SL:  I will be performing it at the National Day of the Cowboy in Humboldt, Kansas this month (July 22-23).  RFD-TV show “Best of America by Horseback” will be on location and filming the event.  Horse enthusiasts from all over the country will ride the trails and enjoy western music from Del Shields—co-host of the show—and as I said I’ll be there too.

LBBIs there anything else you would want readers to know?

SL “One Nation Over God” is available on all worldwide digital distribution companies–iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play, etc. Also, there are two versions of the song.  The male version was sung by my co-writer Jason Wyatt, with my harmonies.  I recorded the song on my newly-released album, Eclectic.

NOTE:  Stephanie Layne’s music is available at www.stephanielayne.com, all worldwide digital distribution companies, and—if you’re in the Nashville area—the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Store. Visit the “One Nation Over God” Official Website at www.OneNationOverGodSong.com.

Thanks to Stephanie and the other writers of this moving song for your hard work and inspiration. I encourage everyone to check it out, download it and share it. Have a Happy & Safe Independence Day!

 

Sacrifice

Arlington

Some women veterans of World War II who had been denied burial in Arlington National Cemetery are now allowed that honor.  Earlier this week, Congress passed a bill permitting female pilots—known as WASPS—the high honor of being buried in what really is sacred ground.

According to Stars and Stripes, members of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots have been working to right this wrong since the Army last year reinterpreted a law from the 1970s that banned them from Arlington burials as a way to deal with the increasingly limited space there.  These brave Fly Girls were trained pilots who transported combat aircraft from 1942-1944, but were not considered active-duty service members at the time.

Thank goodness that was remedied, and the WASPS have since been given the Congressional Gold Medal and veteran benefits for their service.  They stepped into roles outside of the norm for women, and should be recognized for that.  This really has nothing to do with the controversy over women in combat roles.  I don’t personally believe that’s the proper role for women, but they do have a place if they choose to have one within the military.

I once knew a guy who was a veteran who used to refer to female Marines as “WOMAN Marines”.  But he said it with a certain amount of disdain in his voice as if their service was somehow less than his own.  I got the impression he didn’t see them as fellow Marines who just happened to be female.  It’s like the ignorant boss who looks down on his secretary without getting a clue that she (or he for that matter) makes his job easier (if he or she is good at what they do).

I give that above example just as a way to explain that all veterans—male and female—have given something of themselves to preserve the ideas of the American experiment.  They just do it in different ways.  Most gave at least some of their time in their youth, their innocence; some lost limbs, sanity or relationships…others gave their lives.  Even those who served in situations where they weren’t in danger should have our gratitude so long as they did it with honor.

There’s a sign outside of a veterans’ hospital in the area I grew up in that  has this statement:  “The price of freedom is visible here.”  It can’t be said too often that freedom isn’t free—it always costs someone something.  That’s true if we’re talking about the freedom we have within our nation, and the freedom we need within ourselves.

Today is Good Friday.  Many Christians remember an even greater sacrifice that was made for all people of all times by the only One who could have made it.  It wasn’t to save men from the clutches of an evil dictator or repressive government, but to save people from ourselves and the consequences of the sin we were all born into.  Jesus died once for all of us to save us from an eternity apart from Him.

It didn’t take an act of Congress to do it…we just need to believe it.

Price of Freedom

Look Up

The Christmas Moon won't be back until 2034

The Christmas Moon won’t be back until 2034

Christmas these days seems to stress people out more than give them the joy that it was meant to give. As people get busier and busier, they find themselves always looking down: at the next text message, the next email, the next status update on Facebook. What has all this racing around, looking down at some electronic device done? Could it be that the stress so often accompanying this time of year is of our own making? It’s made us forget times that were simpler…Christmases past that seemed to hold more magic, more beauty, more imagination.

Maybe it’s time to stop looking down for a while and start to notice things again. Today we have a Christmas Moon—a rare event– a full moon on Christmas Day. It’s the first time in nearly four decades that that has happened, and it won’t happen again for another 19 years.   The sky was beautiful last night, and the moon was bright. It’s not politically correct any more to say “Merry Christmas” or to even use THAT WORD in some places (like our public schools), but last night’s sky, at least where I was, reminded me of that first Christmas that gave us this opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ every year.

Even though we don’t know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, it still started with a starry night and Wise Men from the East who had been observing the nighttime skies and studying ancient prophesies for quite some time before they noticed one star in particular. It seemed to be different from the others—bigger, brighter, and more magnificent. So they followed it, for what may have been as long as 2 years after the actual birth. When they found the Young King and His parents, they presented him with precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Regular folks like shepherds found Him too (even sooner than the learned mean of means did)…and the Bible tells us the child’s mother treasured all of these things in her heart. She took nothing for granted, and I can imagine that every year that went by as he grew into a boy, then a man, that she looked back with awe and fondness on the Holy Night when she first held her child in her arms.

It’s often said, “Christmas is for kids”. How wrong people are who say that. I don’t think you can really appreciate all that this season and this day has to offer until you have some wisdom of years behind you. You may not remember every gift you got for Christmas over the years, but you most likely will recall the stories of Christmases past—funny or poignant moments that you talk about together around a table full of good things to eat. Stories that are told year after year and they never seem to get old—some get even better with each retelling. Like the young woman Mary of the manger scene, you’ve been storing up those treasures of memories in your heart. They don’t get old, wear out, need batteries or fall apart after 3 days.

If you’ve been stressed out for the last several days or weeks because you were preparing for this day, consider trying something new next year: re-focus on what Christmas really is about. Before this becomes Christmas past, set aside the distractions and look around you. Return to the manger, Follow the star.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

The Faith of Kayla Mueller

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama and penned his now-famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. In it, he explained to a group of fellow pastors why he had to be in that city, which at that time, was the most segregated city in the United States. He wrote, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Perhaps it was that same Spirit that desires to see freedom for the oppressed that prompted Kayla Mueller, a 20-something relief worker from Arizona, to go to one of the most dangerous parts of the world to help people living under the dark shadow of the Islamic State (ISIS). Kayla had done relief work in India in the past. When her boyfriend Omar Alkhani went to Syria to do some internet service work for Doctors Without Borders, she asked to go with him.

They were both captured in August, 2013 after leaving a hospital in Aleppo, Syria. Alkhani was beaten and released after two months, but Kayla’s ordeal was to continue on. According to reports that have since been confirmed by American intelligence, Kayla was raped repeatedly and forced into a “marriage” to top ISIS leader and financier Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

During her captivity, Kayla wrote a letter to her family that made its way to them and has since been released. To read it, knowing what we now know, is truly heart breaking. She tells her family she was “in a safe location, completely unharmed.” However, it’s apparent she was just trying to spare them any further worry about her situation. She’s even apologetic, to the point of feeling like forgiveness from them is beyond her reach: “If you could say I have “suffered” at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.”

She writes about her cellmates who were released…2 Yazidi teens who were also kept as sex slaves. They wanted her to come with them, but she insisted she stay behind because she thought her obviously-American appearance would put them in jeopardy and that they would all be re-captured. So she stayed behind. Though she was hardly old enough to be a mother to the teen-aged girls, Kayla’s family said she became a “mother figure” to them as they all tried to survive together. They were held in the home of another ISIS leader, Abu Sayyaf and his wife Umm Sayyaf. The teens with whom Kayla was imprisoned confirmed Kayla’s forced marriage to al-Baghdadi. He would often come to visit the Sayyafs, and when he did, Kayla was taken to his room. When she returned, she would often be in tears and told the other girls what he did to her.

Her mother, Marsha said, “Kayla did not marry this man. He took her to his room and he abused her and she came back crying.”

Kayla’s death was confirmed back in February of this year, but even now, no one knows how she died. ISIS claims she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not said that those were the circumstances that caused her death. As for the Sayyafs, Abu Sayyaf was killed in a May 16th raid by the elite U.S. Delta Force that intended to capture him, but was forced to kill him because he drew a weapon on them. This lead to a “treasure trove” of new information about ISIS, some of which came from Sayyaf’s wife Umm, who is said to have pretty much spilled her guts about ISIS leaders’ routines and locations. She also corroborated much of what the Yazidi teens had told to U.S. officials about Kayla and the torture she endured to the end of her life at the hands of al-Baghdadi.

What happened to Kayla Mueller is just one example on a long, long list of examples of the inhumanity of the group called ISIS. They behead men, burn people alive, crucify children, throw homosexuals off of buildings and force women and young girls into sex slavery. Kayla saw injustice and oppression on the other side of the world, and like MLK before her, decided she couldn’t sit and do nothing about it. She did what most of us wouldn’t be willing to do: to be a light in the darkest place on earth. She may have lost her life, but she gained so much more, as she clung to her faith in God.   In her words, “I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”

If Kayla’s story has inspired you, please share it.

Kayla Muellar, American humanitarian; died while held in captivity by ISIS.

Kayla Mueller, American humanitarian; died while held in captivity by ISIS.

Torn In Two

We’re all familiar with the phrase: “T.G.I.F—Thank God it’s Friday!” It’s what gets many of us through the week, just knowing that Friday comes.

Today is Good Friday. On this day, Christians around the world remember the suffering and death of an innocent man who was more than a man: He was God in the flesh. That flesh was broken that day in the most gruesome of deaths. He was publicly humiliated, spat upon, mocked. His only remaining possession—the clothes off his back—were raffled off among carousing soldiers.

What could possibly be good about this?

As legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say…here’s the rest of the story:

When Jesus Christ drew His last breath on the cross, the earth literally shook and all kinds of unusual events occurred. The Gospel of Matthew tells it this way: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;…”

Setting aside the fact that dead people rose up out of their graves and began walking around (which had to have been frightening for eyewitnesses), put your focus on the veil in the temple. The Bible is very specific in saying that it was torn “from top to bottom”.

That veil or curtain is what separated the main part of the Jewish temple from the Most Holy Place, where only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and even then he could only go once a year to make a sacrifice for himself and his family. No one else could go there. Also, this veil was no cheap piece of linen. It was a heavy, hand-made creation woven tightly by highly-skilled artisans.

No human being could tear such a curtain in that way, so the Bible would lead us to believe that only God Himself could have done it. I used to think God was upset at what had just been done to His only Son.

But that’s not why the veil was torn. As with so many things (like rainbows, for instance), God was using a visual symbol for all to see that now, with Jesus’ mission accomplished, anyone could go straight into the presence of God—not just the High Priest, and not just once a year—anyone at any time.

God was throwing open the doors of His heart for those people—and us today—to draw near to Him through the sacrifice represented by the torn flesh of Jesus. Just before He died, Jesus felt abandoned, not just by His friends and followers, but by His Father. It was the first time He had ever known the feeling of separation from His Father when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It was at that moment that he was taking on every sin that human beings had ever or would ever commit…and so, being Who He is, the Father turned away from the Son and the sin that was on Him because of us.

It’s hard to believe that the Creator of the universe would care so much for us that He would devise such a plan for our salvation. But He did. He did it for Peter and John…his mother Mary…and for Judas His betrayer…for me and you…George Washington and Adolf Hitler…the guy who cut you off in traffic this morning and the lady in front of you tonight at the grocery store with too many items in the express line. He died for Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and Ted Cruz…and for the militant Islamists responsible for killing 147 Christians yesterday at a college in Kenya.  One sacrifice, one time for all people—the “whosoever will” the Bible so often talks about.

What is it that puts the “good” in Good Friday? It’s this: Jesus could have changed His situation at any minute on the way to The Cross, but He didn’t because of His love for people and His desire to be in a relationship with all of us…and He would have done it had there only been one of us to save.

So TGIGF: Thank God it’s Good Friday!

Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished

Where Soldiers Find Peace

It’s a long way from the dusty battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the crystalline waters of Lake Clark in the mountains of Alaska. But every summer since 2012, hundreds of current and former members of the military and their spouses make their way there through Operation Heal Our Patriots, a ministry of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.

Many of these veterans arrive at Samaritan Lodge dealing with the aftermath of their service to our nation—wounded in their bodies, minds and spirits. The stress of learning to adjust to civilian life with their families and dealing with new physical limitations caused by injuries puts a strain on military couples. Many of them don’t make it. The ministry began as a way to reach out to these battle-weary soldiers and their spouses and help them refocus on building and maintaining strong marriages. Some couples, on the verge of divorce, find a new love for each other as they spend a week experiencing the natural beauty of Alaska and attending Bible-based marriage enrichment classes. Retired military chaplains are on staff to encourage and pray with attendees. Operation Heal Our Patriot marriage retreats often end with vow renewals for many of the couples, as well as baptisms for those who are either re-dedicating their lives to Jesus Christ or finding Him for the first time.

One couple who found respite during their time in Alaska is Army Staff Sergeant Juan Montealvo and his wife Tanya. A few days before Christmas in 2004, Montealvo was on a mission to deliver school supplies to Iraqi children in Mosul when a bomb planted by insurgents exploded near his vehicle. He survived that and several other explosions during his three combat tours to Iraq, and when he came home for good in 2010, Tanya noticed he wasn’t quite himself. Montealvo was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and went through physical and speech therapy. Tanya became his care-giver, and the strain of adapting to their new normal was something they never prepared themselves to handle.

When Tanya heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots, she believed it was an answer to their prayers and said, “Our souls, our spirits, our minds needed this to reset…I’m ready for a new beginning with my husband, walking along with Jesus.”

The ministry doesn’t end once these families leave Alaska, however. Ongoing outreach helps them to find a church or military chaplain in their local communities so they can develop a strong network of support. Reunions are also held at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in North Carolina so that participants can make new friendships and renew those they made in the Alaskan wilderness. All of this—including travel to Alaska—is free to the couples and is made possible by donations to Samaritan’s Purse/ Operation Heal Our Patriots.

This ministry is open to all current and former veterans who have served since September 11, 2001. Interested couples can go to the Samaritan’s Purse website to fill out an application. If you’d like to help send these brave American heroes to Lake Clark next summer, please consider making a donation on the website. What better way to say “thank you” to them this Veterans Day?

Wedding vow renewal ceremonies are common during Operation Heal Our Patriot's Alaskan retreats.-  Courtesy SamaritansPurse.org

Wedding vow renewal ceremonies are common during Operation Heal Our Patriot’s Alaskan retreats.- Courtesy SamaritansPurse.org