There are 2 different groups of people that read my blog: those that know me from my current context at FBC Enterprise and friends and family from other locales. For those that aren’t from Enterprise, I want to take just a few lines to explain what that context is. Here in Enterprise, we have Fort Rucker, a US Army post where all helicopter pilots are trained. We also have many families that move back to Enterprise after the parent in their family retires because there are always jobs available here for helicopter pilots.
That brings me to the title of this blog. There is a three letter acronym that anyone involved in a military community will know: PCS (permanent change of station). PCSing means that the family will pick up and move to their parent’s next duty posting. Research shows that the average military family will change assignments (i.e., move to a different city) 6-9 times before their separation from military service (Check the research out here)
The high proportion of military families in our community means that we as a church minister to families in the military and formerly in the military on a regular basis. Living in a military town was not new to me when my family and I arrived in Enterprise 5 years ago. I grew up in Sumter, SC, which is home to Shaw Air Force base. I can remember being sad when my friends would have to move and remember creating life-long relationships when new kids moved into town. So what does this mean for our student ministry at FBC Enterprise? I think there are four things that we have to do well.
Learn how to say “Hello” well
With a constant churn of families moving into and out of Enterprise every 2-3 years we need to be good at greeting military families. We need not just to greet military families when they come through the doors of the church, but greet them at school, the grocery store, the ball fields, dance, etc. We need to look for opportunities, both corporately as a church and individually, to welcome them to our community. We do this even though we realize many of these families are just passing through. Jesus gives us the example for this when discussing the greatest commandment and saying that we must first love God and then love others as ourselves. Loving others is our calling to do with military families.
The military brings people from all over the United States and the world to Enterprise, AL. Some of those people are easy to understand and easy to get to know. Others are hard because they come from a different culture or because their family has moved so many times that they don’t want to get to know anyone new. We need to “love others as ourselves” just as Jesus tells us to. What does that look like for a military family? It is different for each one, but we are called to love them for who they are and for where their family is when they move to our community. We need to love them despite their language differences, despite the scars they have from moving four times in 10 years, even though they never found a church to fit into in their last duty post. We need to love them with the love of Jesus even if it is for a short duration.
After welcoming military families we need to disciple them. If we only have 2-3 years to disciple a family that moves into our community, we can’t waste even a second. We need to realize that the needs of a military family (both parents and children) can be different in some ways to the normal family that visits our church. We need to help these military families become part of our family. We need to help them see that even though they are here only a short time we want to have meaningful discipleship relationships with them. We need to have the mindset that we have 2-3 years to pour into these families to send them out as missionaries in their next place of duty.
Say Goodbye well
One of the hardest parts about serving in a military community is saying goodbye. I am reminded of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians as he said goodbye to them for the last time in Acts 20:13-37. Paul gives the Ephesians many different things to remember in his final talk with them, but the ending is impactful. Paul pray’s for the people in the Ephesian church that he had helped plant. The Ephesian church and people had been nurtured by Paul. He had watched them struggle and overcome. He had done life with them. It is important that he ends his time with them by praying for them. The people respond with physical acts of love and sadness. This affection is not unlike how we should respond to saying goodbye to our military families. It is a time of sadness that they are leaving us, but we should rally around, pray, be ok with tears, and hug. We should wish them well and know that we made an impact on their life.