Honoring Veterans and Ministry

Veterans Leadership Ministry:
Helping Veterans Re-establish Social Connections to Loved Ones

Like many others I had a scar or two from Vietnam and the 4th ID. I did not know what some of that baggage was called until November 2014 in Sarasota, FL when I attended a Moral Injury Conference. I was curious about the term, a “moral injury” since I was not familiar with it.

A “moral injury” is defined as an injury to one’s moral consciousness resulting from an act of moral transgression stemming from a betrayal of what is right. It is not so much a psychological disorder as a soul in anguish. I knew `I was one of those who needed Soul Repair. That forum propelled me to begin the VETERANS LEADERSHIP MINISTRY at Bluff Park United Methodist Church in Hoover, Alabama.

The Mission Statement reads. “To provide a safe haven of acceptance and healing to men and women “quietly suffering” from the effects of war while trying to find a peaceful identity in a lost and broken world.”[Credit goes to Chris Gill (Soldier’s Heart) for helping forge the mission.]

We spent all of 2015 raising awareness within our congregation. Then began preparing the fifty volunteers who signed up to assist with this ministry. They needed to embrace and really understand (as well as civilian lay persons can)  a centuries old  “Hidden Wounds Purification Process” for warriors to transition back into society.

A wonderful organization called Military Outreach USA has published several concise books on Moral Injury, PTSD, TBI, and other mental challenges many warriors face.In “They Don’t Receive Purple Hearts” the authors document An Old Testament reference in Numbers 31 to the Israelites ceremony of law to purify themselves. The Romans had baths to wash away the impurities of battle. In the early Middle ages, Christian knights were required to do acts of penance, Native American tribes had sweat lodges.

Jonathan Shey, the psychiatrist who coined the term “moral injury”, has compared the experiences of Vietnam veterans with those of homecomings in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Also with Chinese monk warriors and Samurais. Many cultures had some kind of ritual purification to help the warrior’s spirit transition back in their society ~ to re-establish a social connection with loved ones and friends.

In the early months of this ministry the closest thing I could find to a “Spirit” or “Soul Repair” purification process was Kairos’ (Prison Ministry) where LISTEN-LOVE underlies their work. We took that and added GAIN TRUST, CONVERSE, and HEAL to form the underlying “spirit transition” or purification process we use to engage the veteran participants and/or their families that contact us.

We recognize that with only a few exceptions, our volunteers are lay people and need to know when to partner with mental health and Crisis professionals in the proximity of our church. We have nearly completed our protocol for visiting the Crisis Center Birmingham and 4 Counseling Centers near our church to develop a WIN –WIN for both partners. They are the experts while our volunteers we provide long term-continuity and support.

Lest I have given you the impression that our ministry is only for those with hidden wounds, we welcome all Vets, and, as I say in the invitation video on our WS and FB page, even those who are angry with God.

Here are the Basics:  VLM provides each Veteran and their families that participate…

1.     An opportunity to develop trusting, caring relationships with VLM team volunteers and church members providing a safe haven for those who may be in need.

2.     Valuable partners in understanding the array of resources available to veterans, and be a resource guide for those who need them. This not only includes Crisis and Counseling centers but other support resources like Still Serving Vets in Homewood, Iron Tribe, a physical fitness process I have engaged in for almost 3 years, Chris Gill’s Soldiers’ Heart Small group ministry, Life Leaders, and the ALNC. We “Vet” our resources and ask them to “Vet” us as real partnering relationship hold the key to success.

3.     A commitment to the goal of establishing and maintaining a long-term relationship of mutual respect and support ~ years if needed. (At some point the veteran is no longer a VLM participant but a member of the Christian brotherhood like the rest of us who has a special gif Dunnt to offer others (perhaps other veterans) whether in our congregation or another one. That is to say, he/she is normalized and thriving again.

So what differentiates our ministry?  I think it is the continuity over a long period of time—even years– of lay VLM volunteers partnered with professionals who, while they will never understand the uniqueness of circumstances of each veteran, the professionals will earn their trust and help vets find a peaceful identity in a lost and broken world.

Our only measure of success will be the degree to which the partnering team helps the vet and their family go from whatever level of “suffering” they are now in to THRIVING, having the resiliency to take on life’s curve balls and lead again, in their family and community with a healthy heart as well as a sound mind and body.

Written and Shared by Stretch Dunn, Lt. Colonel US Army (ret.)                                                                                     

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