The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
Church reaches out to wounded warriors Melissa Lauber, Dec 27, 2011
'UM CONNECTION' PHOTO COURTESY RON FOSTER
Military personnel and members of Bethesda (Md.) UMC share lunch as part of the church’s Loaves and Fishes ministry at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
By Melissa Lauber Special Contributor
BETHESDA, Md.—For many Americans, the war in Afghanistan seems like a distant event that rarely reaches into their lives. But at Bethesda United Methodist Church, once a month, the congregation comes face to face with people wounded in that war and offers conversation, concern, a delicious lunch and a bit of healing for the soul.
“We provide caloric love,” said Mary Ann Toomey who oversees the logistics of the Loaves and Fishes Ministry, which serves a meal to the medical staff, patients and their family members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
When a Marine steps on an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan, his whole world explodes. Even when he lives and is promised recovery, life for him and his family gets shaken to the very foundation.
Since 2003, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has treated more than 1,600 war-wounded service members from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is the only Defense Department facility that provides complex neurocritical care for wartime traumatic brain injury patients.
How could we not want to reach out to these men and women, their families and the medical personnel who care for them, Ms. Toomey asked. “Our church draws people who want to live out their faith. So many people in our church want an opportunity to help. We organize that to make it possible.”
Capt. Mark Stephens is one of those people. He helped create the ministry from $15,000 collected at the church in last year’s Christmas Eve offering. The ministry started in February with nine people feeding mostly medical personnel, and has grown considerably.
“There are wounded warriors with fractured families and fractured lives,” Capt. Stephens said. “There are also myriad caregivers working hard to provide healing. The ability to blend a warm meal with fellowship and camaraderie is a foundational element of many spirit-filled communities. To blend the communities of warriors and healers with a meal and our church family is a joy.”
This joy is particularly potent for Pat Durkin, a member of Bethesda UMC, who two years ago suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed while riding the waves in Ocean City, Md.
The Rev. Ron Foster, a pastor at the church, invited Mr. Durkin to share some of his story with the wounded warriors at the medical center.
“I tell them about my situation,” Mr. Durkin said. “I was a special agent with the U.S. government. Six years ago I retired. I was living a wonderful life, then all of a sudden that was all gone when I got paralyzed from the shoulders down. I tell them about learning to adjust and how in that first year I coded five times and had to fight for my life very hard. The first year was a struggle just to survive. It’s just like they’re experiencing.”
But Mr. Durkin also tells them that there is a life for them apart from their injuries. “If they keep a positive attitude, and with the help of their family and friends, they’re going to realize they can have a wonderful life. As an example, maybe before you got hurt you could do 10,000 activities and after, you can only do 6,000 activities—6,000 activities is a lot of things you still can do. It depends on how you look at things.”
At the hospital, he keeps the conversation light. But he also tries to let the men know they have to be strong. “You can never let negative feelings come in because it takes all your strength to deal with your injuries. You can’t let negative feelings sap your strength.” Part of Mr. Durkin’s experience comes from his faith in God and his strong belief, which stems from experience, he said, that God answers prayer.
Getting around in a wheelchair by using his breath, Mr. Durkin inspires Mr. Foster and others at Bethesda. “He has an incredible spirit,” said Mr. Foster, “and is always looking for a way to turn his accident and situation into a blessing for other people.”
As more people in the church hear about Loaves and Fishes, the ministry is expanding, said Ms. Toomey. Church members are now considering ways of expanding what they offer, compiling tackle boxes with the things visiting family members wish they had brought with them or offering the wounded warriors and their families a chance to attend entertainment off the medical campus.
“We’re not exactly sure what our next step will be,” said Mr. Foster. The congregation would like to do something for the residents of a new rehabilitation barracks. But when working with the military, it’s important things go at their pace as trust continues to be built, he said.
“We are a church with so many resources—economic, emotional and strategic. We’re wealthy in many ways,” said Ms. Toomey, who is a nurse by training. “A lot of people there have a lot to give, especially to those who have given so much for our country.”
Ms. Lauber is the editor of UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.