CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Churches near military bases undoubtedly pay more attention and follow the events of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” than ordinary churches. Such is the case for the Maplewood Baptist Church, located a few miles from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, 160th SOAR regiment and the 5th Special Forces Group.
"These are not nameless faces we see on TV," said Bruce Pettitt, pastor of the congregation that is about 60 percent military-related. “We watch the news and listen for those numbers.”
The grenade assault on military compound tents overseas left a captain killed and 15 fellow soldiers injured, March 23. The soldier who was killed, Christopher Scott Seifert, was not a Maplewood member, but Pettitt said his congregation is affected nevertheless. All of his deacons, he noted, have been deployed.
"Everything that happens over there ... somebody in our church is affected," he said. "It may not be an immediate family member, but it is a coworker or a relation."
In the midst of such tragic news, the Clarksville churches have been ministering to the families left behind by the deployed soldiers.
"Right now some of my active church members are in downtown Baghdad," said Roger Freeman, pastor of First Baptist Church, Clarksville.
With about 10 percent of his church members are military personnel Freeman noted that the First Baptist has a ministry that matches families of deployed soldiers with those of non-military church members.
"We've fixed cars in the last two weeks," he said. "We've taken children to the hospital two or three times to help with illnesses that come up. So we're trying to support them all we can."
Some of the "finest Christians" Freeman has ever met are in the Army. He said one colonel he knew stood in front of a group of 200 soldiers and told how he "dedicated my whole life to the Lord Jesus Christ."
"There are some wonderful men there, and they are members of churches here in the city," Freeman said.
Another church across town, Hilldale Baptist, also has a remarkable number of deployed soldiers.
"Any news of the 101st is of great concern to us and our families," said Hilldale singles' minister Max Holt. "We try to keep the news on all the time here in the office and at home. If there is any particular bad news, then we can communicate with others and take action to be ready to help those families once we know what families may be involved."
Like many congregations since the outbreak of war, Hilldale has started a special three-fold prayer emphasis encouraging church members to lift up those overseas. "Mission Enduring Prayer" asks church members to pray Job 5:20 -- "In famine he will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword." -- at 5:20 every morning and evening.
The church also handed out 750 flags recently that were attached to names of soldiers and national leaders.
"Our congregation was encouraged to take one of them and ... to use it as a prayer reminder every day," Holt said.
Jeff Burris, pastor of First Baptist Church in nearby St. Bethlehem, Tenn., said, “I heard one soldier say, 'The best way you can pray for me is to pray that I'll be brave even in the face of danger. We want them to all come home safe."
Nonetheless, many pastors believe the war has opened a door for missions and ministry. "Many soldiers have come to me and staff members in recent weeks wanting to make sure they were right with God," First Baptist's Freeman said.
Times of war provide a unique chance for outreach, Maplewood's Pettitt said.
"This is not a detriment to the church," he said. "It is an opportunity. We have families in our community who are not Christians. They are unchurched, and they don't have the resources we have. They're not plugged into the strength that we have from God. We're using this as an opportunity to reach those who would never give us an open door to talk to them.
"God uses things like this for his glory -- to open up doors."
By Pauline J.