JEFFERSON CITY – Col. Gary Gilmore can hardly contain his excitement about the prospects of Missouri Baptists ministering to soldiers as part of its “Partners in Care” agreement with the Missouri National Guard (MONG).
A partnership agreement between the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and the Guard matches soldiers’ needs with available faith-based resources in their home communities.
Gilmore, a former Missouri Baptist pastor, serves as the Guard’s Joint Force Chaplain Chief in the Family and Warrior Support Division. He is charged with implementing the partnership.
With more than 11,000 soldiers and 63 armories, the chaplaincy program cannot cover all the needs, but chaplains can refer soldiers to resources in their own communities.
“The Guard has a program that contacts soldiers and families, but we are not local,” Gilmore explained. “In crises, they turn to the church.”
He pointed out that participating churches are not being asked to do anything different. They are being asked to include military families in the programs and activities they already have going.
Gilmore mentioned two current areas of concern where faith-based organizations can make a difference – post-deployment and financial stability.
“We build strong people, but we put them in tough situations,” Gilmore said. “If you’ve been gone a year, it takes a year to get back home. A lot of families wobble in that year.” If soldiers experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he added, it is usually during that first year.
“They need the strength of churches, especially at that time,” Gilmore said. “I call this ‘The New Normal.’” Churches could help soldiers incorporate the year of deployment into the rest of their lives through a men’s group or something as simple as just having a hunting buddy.
Another concern involves the financial strain of deployment. Soldiers re-enter society with no health care, no retirement, and may come back to find that their employers are no longer in business.
While some try to live on the check they get from their part-time service in the Guard, they find they can’t do it.
Gilmore would like to see churches accept soldiers and their spouses into money management classes such as Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. If a church is offering that program, the Guard already has teaching kits it can supply to soldiers free of charge.
Gilmore said it is important that churches meet needs first and have the conversation about faith later. He calls it the “Good Samaritan Approach.”
In his experience, soldiers are turned off because they don’t understand why Christians can’t get along with each other and because they don’t understand what Christians have to offer them that touches their lives.
If they feel Christians have touched their lives, it prompts the question of why they are doing it. “Faith conversations don’t usually come up at the point of need but afterward,” he observed.
Church involvement can be as personal as a couple of men attending a Little League game to cheer for a deployed soldier’s child or as extensive as joining with other churches to open a food bank. Organizations with a 501(c)(3) tax exempt status can be an extension of local food banks and can use MONG armories for distribution.
Gilmore ticked off a list of other possible ministries: car maintenance, handyman services, deacons checking on families, support groups, Bible School, youth camp, addiction recovery, family counseling or a program designed to fit a particular need.
It’s important that faith-based organizations sign MONG’s memorandum of understanding. Organizations need not be churches: associations may apply, as may men’s groups, Sunday School classes, groups of pastors, inter-denominational groups, or other affiliations.
Partners need to supply the Guard with a list of services they can offer – free of charge – to its soldiers, along with the name of a contact person.
The ideal, Gilmore said, would be for the church to give its approval in a business meeting and to have someone in the congregation be its representative. That would give chaplains two points of contact, the other being the pastor.
MONG will provide training on issues such as how to contact a family with a Red Cross message, how to be aware of and prevent suicide, and how to relate to government requirements that have to be met.
“This is a tremendous opportunity, but we have some parameters,” Gilmore said. One is that partners cannot require church attendance or membership as a condition for receiving services. Another is that the Guard cannot endorse any religion or church.
Once chaplains have a list of programs or services, they can inform soldiers where those services are available.
“Unless a church has signed this [agreement], I can’t tell them where to go,” said Gilmore. “I need a document and point of contact.”
He considers “Partners in Care” to be more than a program; it revolves around demonstrating love. “People need fellowship, support and touch.
“They don’t join the National Guard to get on a prospect list. We’re not trying to hook people. Just love people and see what God does.”
Gilmore and his staff are available to talk to organizations about partnership involvement. He can be reached at 573-638-9500, at email@example.com, or at Ike Skelton Training Site, 2302 Militia Drive, Jefferson City, MO 65101.
The MBC representative is Family Ministry Specialist Joe Ulveling at (573) 636-0400, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 400 E. High Street, Jefferson City, MO 65101.
BARBARA SHOUN/contributing writer