The military and political impact of the troop surge in Iraq is receiving ample coverage-but what about its effect on the spiritual lives of military families?
Suzann Mayfield, director of marketing and communications for Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM), sees big changes: "More moms involved. More dual military families, with both parents deployed. . . . We haven't seen a situation like this, perhaps ever, for military families."
Many mega-ministries have military divisions, but only a handful of evangelical ministries are exclusively dedicated to military personnel and their families. MCYM, which places Young Life and Youth For Christ staff members on U.S. military installations around the world, is one of the few (see below).
Local churches near military installations help, but most churches, Mayfield says, have all but forgotten how to minister to military families. There are few true military towns anymore. San Diego, for example, and Colorado Springs, where MCYM is headquartered, are now major cities no longer dominated by nearby bases. "There are fewer people who understand what these kids are going through," Mayfield said.
Even on or near bases, Mayfield said, "military kids are a 'third culture.' They are neither civilian nor military, neither adult nor child. They're kids who have had to face the possibility of death."
This creates unique ministry opportunities, said Bob Flynn, president of Christian Military Fellowship (CMF). CMF, with only an eight-person staff, ministers through 2,500 current and former armed forces members who use CMF resources to lead Bible studies and conduct ministry on or near military installations.
"People think about eternal things when they are in harm's way," Flynn said. "The opening we have to talk about spiritual matters is greater than at other times." But Flynn, too, said that the current era of extended, back-to-back deployments has "military families stretched thin. . . . They need to be loved and cared for, so they don't feel like they're all alone."
MCYM's Mayfield and her four children recently felt this need herself. She's a ministry veteran and is also the wife of Col. Thomas Mayfield, who was deployed in Iraq. MCYM leaders came to son Tommy's football games and provided a positive male presence in the teenager's life while dad was off attending to other duties.
"That experience gave me a heightened sense of the importance of what we're doing," Suzann Mayfield said. "It also helped me see that in the midst of the instability and uncertainty of military life, God offers stability and security. If we can provide just a glimpse of that through our ministry, then we've accomplished our goals."
The ministries below are members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and have earned an "A" transparency grade from MinistryWatch.com:
Military Community Youth Ministries (www.mcym.org)
Staff: Approximately 400 worldwide, most of them trained by Young Life or Youth For Christ to work with military youth. Named one of 30 (out of 500) "Shining Light" ministries by MinistryWatch.com -for excellence in financial and operational management
Cadence International (www.cadence.org)
Staff: 100 "missionary couples and singles" work in "hospitality houses" near military facilities and 40 other missionaries work around the world. Hospitality houses provide military personnel a "family" atmosphere, meals, Bible studies, and other ministry and off-duty activities
Officer's Christian Fellowship (ocf.gospelcom.net)
Staff: 18 field and 30 support staff, with 13,000 members, including 7,800 active duty officers. More than 500 staff- and member-led Bible studies conducted worldwide
Christian Military Fellowship (www.cmfhq.org)
Staff: 8. Ministry done through 2,500 members who are active and former members of the armed forces