Commentary

Helping them come home again

Returning veterans need and deserve the church’s embrace

The deputy chaplain of the Minnesota National Guard has issued a call to the churches to get ready to receive the returning veterans. But, who knows how? Indian communities in North Dakota, Christian and non-Christian alike, hold special ceremonies every time a veteran returns. The Aymaras in the highlands in Bolivia do something similar when a soldier returns from military service. They all are acutely aware that the returnee has suffered certain trauma and may be needing deliverance of evil spirits, spiritual cleansing and healing. The country has sent them out to do their patriotic work, and many now are returning at least with wounded and bleeding hearts. Yes, receptions and parades are of help.

However could they not, on their first or second Sunday home, come forward (along with their spouses and/or fiancées, if they have them) and share, in front of the congregation, some of their struggles, the shock of being back, perhaps some of the trauma they are already experiencing. Then let the pastor and the whole congregation pray over and for them, for cleansing and healing. There could also be a time of confession, for having sent them to war where they were forced to break many of God’s commandments.

The service could include asking the Lord for some compassion and wisdom, adjusting the sermon to deal with these issues, selecting music especially appropriate, and thus administering healing.

A couple, when the soldier husband had returned from the war, were invited to share a Sunday morning at a church not their own. Those who heard them were moved. Understanding began. This couple marveled afterwards how much that opportunity meant to them, and how healing it has been for them.

Returning missionaries face similar issues. We have sent them out to do our “blessed work.” Yet they, too, like the battle veterans, are returning with bleeding hearts, perhaps with curses on their heads and the challenges that go with learning how to fit back in.

Our Lord called forth Lazarus out of the burial cave and he revived. Then the Lord said to those watching, “You untie him.” I am convinced Jesus also means these words for us, now — and not just to be relegated to a committee. It is the proper task of the whole congregation.

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Peters served eight years in Bolivia with the World Mission Prayer League. Currently a Volunteer Chaplain at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center, he lives in Minneapolis.