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Casualties of war

"Casualties of war" Continued...

Issue: "Surviving Syria," June 1, 2013

Outside the Pentagon, Military Ministry, a division of Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) commissioned the biblically based Combat Trauma Healing Manual and a companion workbook for wives called When War Comes Home. “You can’t read through the Psalms of David without realizing that he was a sufferer of post-traumatic stress and cried out many times for God’s healing and support,” said Jeff Oster, Military Ministry’s executive director.

The organization also partnered with the American Association of Christian Counselors to produce a 30-hour training video for professional counselors on how to deal with PTSD using a Christ-centered approach.

But scores of hurting veterans are leaving the military and returning to their small hometowns, many in rural areas far from military bases and the nonprofits catering to soldiers. “What we need is lots and lots of churches that will take the plight of military families to heart,” said Chris Adsit, the lead author of Military Ministry’s two workbooks. “The good shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and searches for the one lost sheep.”

FIVE MONTHS INTO HIS 2004 DEPLOYMENT to Iraq, Josh Renschler, 21, stood on top of his vehicle when a mortar round hit a perimeter fence, hurling a four-foot long steel picket towards him. Renschler woke up three days later at a hospital in Germany. He spent two months in a military hospital in California recovering from head and back injuries. All he wanted to do was get back to his unit in Iraq. Instead he underwent more medical treatment at his home base in Fort Lewis, Wash. He struggled with seizures, migraines and numbness in his legs. When his old unit came back, he avoided them. Soon the unit redeployed to Iraq without him. Renschler became obsessed with watching news reports about the war.

One night in May 2007, Renschler recognized faces on his television screen. Six members of his old squad had been killed when an explosive device tore though their vehicle. The next morning Renschler put on his uniform and went to his unit’s rear detachment. They assigned him to escort the bodies to their final resting places. He followed his old battle buddies to funerals from Washington to Mississippi. Seeing the families grieve, Renschler felt guilty for not being in the vehicle with the rest of his squad. Six months later he left the army.

Renschler took a job at an island prison in Washington. It became a breeding ground for his anger and hate. Fights gave him such an adrenaline rush that he sometimes provoked the inmates. After breaking up a large melee about a year into his job, Renschler couldn’t calm down. When he slumped into a chair, his coworkers thought he was having a heart attack. Hospital doctors told him he had suffered a panic attack. Renschler lost his job.

Renschler and his family started attending Northwest Community Church in Lakewood, Wash. He went, but he didn’t understand how God could allow horrible things he had witnessed to happen. Matt Vanderfeltz, a church member and retired lieutenant colonel, latched onto Renschler. He wouldn’t take no for an answer when he invited Renschler to coffee or a meal. Unemployed, Renschler had no excuse when Vanderfeltz asked him to a men’s retreat. When Renschler began to talk about the issues he was having, Vanderfeltz promised to walk alongside Renschler to help him find the best solution. Without Renschler asking for help, members of the church began showing up at his doorstep with a car full of groceries. Unsigned cards with $200 in Safeway gift cards would arrive in the mail.

Renschler started going to a VA outpatient-counseling program, where he saw Vietnam veterans who had been coming for 30 years but were still broken. Renschler told Vanderfeltz that he didn’t want to end up like that. Vanderfeltz found a copy of the Military Ministry workbook. But Renschler, not much of a reader, hid it away.

With Renschler still jobless, the banks started to foreclose on his home and repossess his truck. He faced his third back surgery. Lying in bed one afternoon in the middle of 2008, with severe back pain and a migraine headache, Renschler looked up on the top of a shelf and saw his gun. He visualized putting it to his head and pulling the trigger and thought about the relief he’d feel when it was over. He pictured the bullet escaping the barrel and going through his head. He sat up.

Suddenly he saw an image of his wife finding him dead. He imagined her having to tell their children. The pain that he would cause them seemed greater than any physical pain he had endured. He decided at that point that it wasn’t a good solution, but he had to figure out something else fast. He was not in a good place. He remembered the workbook. When he opened it to the first step he saw in bold print: “Where Was God?” It was the same question he had been asking himself. He read through the book, learning about the spiritual component to his battles.

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