Yesterday morning I drove to the other side of Orlando to write a story about a Methodist church with a creative ministry designed to support soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.
The basic idea is not unique. In fact, I don't know a single church in the Brandon area that doesn't do something in the way of care-packages, letters, prayer and/or reaching out to the families left behind. At any given time, my church - First Presbyterian - has at least 3-5 members overseas (and many in a war-zone), and that doesn't count people like our son, Andrew, who works as a civilian in logistical operations.
But First United Methodist of Oviedo goes above and beyond. It started around three years ago when one of the members wanted the church to extend some support for her son in Iraq. She asked for help sending cookies and a bunch of people came through. Then - of course - her son shared them with his friends... who wanted more... and a ministry was born.
Yesterday I watched a dozen volunteers pack around 16,000 cookies into boxes and a huge pile of camouflage Christmas stockings. Additionally, the church sends games, candy, hygiene items, books, DVDs, phone cards, and - most importantly - letters of encouragement and the promise of prayer.
And they don't do any of this "Send to Any Soldier" stuff. These folk do their research, they adopt particular units, and they contact the soldiers by name. The letters are personal, and the prayers are accordingly more powerful.
But it doesn't stop there. These women and men - around 40 at the typical meeting - support the soldiers' families at home. They visit the Veterans Center on a regular basis. They travel to trauma programs and they work with injured soldiers. They - and this one is really cool - show up a day ahead of returning soldiers and make their bed, stock the refrigerator, clean the apartment, hang a welcome sign... whatever it takes.
What the Oviedo Methodists do is go out of their way to "be the presence of Christ" for the men and women who have given so much of themselves to serve those of us who don't wear a uniform.
No, politics has nothing to do with this. Here's what I believe - and it was confirmed 100% by everyone I met yesterday when I traveled to do this story. It's quite possible to be unreservedly against the actions of the United States in places like Iraq and Afghanistan... and yet be 100% in support of the fine men and women who wear the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
It's perfectly OK to be opposed to our foreign policy.... or to be a hawk... or to be ambivalent... and to genuinely love and appreciate our troops in every guise.
In fact - and this is pretty much where I stand - we can hate war, disagree with our Commander in Chief, understand that self-determination hinges on the word "self", own the conviction that the last thing we need to be doing as a nation is shooting or intimidating anyone in the Mid East, and even protest the way we conduct ourselves overseas... and still stand, 100%, behind the brave men and women who serve this country.
In fact, I believe the most supportive thing we can do for the young women and men in the United States military is to bring them home. I honestly don't see how sending young adults to Afghanistan, to be blown up by IEDs (when Afghanistan itself appears unwilling to be the kind of democracy we insist they should) shows them much honor. Personally, I hold the trust of their young lives with a lot more regard than that.
Peace - and I mean that with all my heart - DEREK