Jason and Danielle Vest are Christians, genuinely seeking Jesus, trusting Him, and striving to live and share the Gospel with others.
Their faith has helped them through some difficult times. They leaned on Christ when Jason, an Air Force pilot, returned from deployment in Iraq with an autoimmune disease that changed the course of his life, and the dynamics of their marriage.
They had walked with Jesus through the challenges, and turned to Him to work through their issues.
Jason and Danielle were on solid ground when they arrived at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, the retreat center in Port Alsworth.
Samaritan Lodge Alaska is the major component of the Samaritan’s Purse ministry for military service members who have been wounded or injured while serving their country. The purpose of the wilderness camp is to provide the couples with the opportunity to strengthen their marriage and deepen their spiritual walk with God as they participate in daily devotions and Bible lessons led by the camp chaplain.
Even though the Vests already were strong in their marriage and their faith, they still got a lot out of the week.
“It’s just what we need,” Jason said. “The devotional in the morning, the marriage stuff at night, it’s just what we need.”
God also used the time at Samaritan Lodge Alaska for His glory by confirming a calling He had on Jason’s life.
Jason, an Air Force special operations pilot who flew a U-28, is suffering from Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome—a rare autoimmune condition characterized by muscle weakness of the limbs. The condition started while he was serving in Iraq. The origin is unknown.
“The best the doctors could give me was, ‘It’s environmentally triggered,’” he said. “My symptoms were the worst in Iraq.”
The symptoms are mostly characterized by weakness. Medicine helps, but there are side effects, so Jason tries to minimize its use.
“When I’m not on medication I feel pretty bad,” he said. “I have a hard time moving my muscles. Even with medicine I’m not as strong as I was before. There’s no cure, no remission. To be 31 years old, to lose your strength like that, it’s been such a mental struggle to stay calm and to not let it take over my life.”
Jason and Danielle admit that the disease put a strain on their marriage, particularly when it first manifested. Jason was granted a medical discharge, and there were challenges as he tried to reintegrate into his family.
“It was really rough at first,” he said. “There were some super hard times. Life goes on. Marriage goes on. The kids need what they need. I think God brought us through, even the hard times. God told me, the battle belongs to the Lord. I take strength from that.”
Danielle nodded as Jason talked.
“Things like this either make or break a marriage,” she said. “You’re either done, or you come out stronger and are able to help others.”
Jason and Danielle have turned to God to help deal with the disease, and to strengthen their marriage. The sessions at Samaritan Lodge Alaska reinforced that. But, as it turned out, that wasn’t the primary reason why God brought them to the program. During one of the sessions, words from camp chaplain Jim Fisher resonated with the couple.
“The chaplain said something yesterday,” Danielle said on their third day in Alaska. “What the devil intended for evil, God can use it for good. How do you obey through it? It’s not just about us.”
It confirmed what Jason and Danielle already had been thinking. What if God didn’t just want to strengthen them to persevere through the hard times? What if he wanted to use them to minister to others?
Jason and Danielle already were praying about going to Bible school or seminary. The week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska confirmed it.
“Towards the end of the week, one of the devotionals really gave me some answers I had been looking for,” Jason said. “I spoke with the chaplain and he affirmed something that I have been praying about: my entering into ministry.”
Jason is entering seminary in Texas to pursue a Masters of Divinity. He said he wants to be able to minister to veterans.
“Samaritan’s Purse was the first program that wasn’t afraid to tell us how much we needed God in such difficult times,” he said. “Danielle and I really benefited from our quality time together and from the marriage workshops. I think what you all are doing is great and it has motivated me to do my part in sharing God’s love.”