Alaska Fridays Are a Celebration!

September 3, 2021 • United States
Hernandez were baptized in Lake Clark this August.
Fabian and Mireya Hernandez were baptized in Lake Clark this August.

The Operation Heal Our Patriots family rejoices in new life in Christ and stronger marriages.

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Each week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, Fridays are a day of celebration. Operation Heal Our Patriots staff and volunteers thank God as they watch baptisms, hear military couples renew their vows, and listen to testimonies of saving grace during a fireside farewell.

Lisa and Mark Hale and all guest couples received a heroes' welcome upon arrival at Samaritan Lodge.

Lisa and Mark Hale and all guest couples received a heroes’ welcome upon arrival at Samaritan Lodge.

Of course, the rest of the week is pretty special too. There’s a flag-waving welcome on Sunday afternoon as veteran couples—each with at least one spouse wounded after 9/11—arrive. Over the next four days these husbands and wives go fly fishing, wildlife viewing, and hiking while also learning what the Bible has to say about life and love, conflict and forgiveness, and marriage overall. Their relationship with each other can blossom again, and they make new friends all around.

Guest couples often describe the experience as a sort of heaven on earth. Throughout the week, Christian love and care in action soften hearts and prepare the way for a very special Friday. The Holy Spirit is moving in the camp.

On a recent August Friday, seven individuals were baptized and each of them rededicated their marriage to God and their spouse. Keep reading to learn just a little of their stories!

A New Family

Marine Sergeant Fabian Hernandez and his wife, Mireya, of Edinburg, Texas, were among them. They both received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior earlier in the week and were baptized in the chilly waters of Lake Clark that Friday morning. They also took part in the marriage rededication ceremony.

Fabian and Mireya Hernandez practice teamwork while paddling a kayak in Hardenburg Bay.

Fabian and Mireya Hernandez practice teamwork while paddling a kayak in Hardenburg Bay.

“You showed us how to love again,” Mireya said, reflecting back on a week of training and conversations with chaplains about God’s design for marriage.

Fabian, a veteran of the war in Iraq who suffers from a long list of injuries from head to toe, put it simply himself: “Over this week, we’ve become closer with each other and with God.”

The baptism sealed the deal, Mireya said. It’s a spiritual marker that they can look back to in good times and bad. They know they are now part of God’s family first and foremost and also the Operation Heal Our Patriots family.

“Our lives are going to change for the better,” Fabian said. “We have a whole new family that we’ve walked into and we’re excited now for what could become after 10 years of marriage. We thought we had God in our lives, but this is completely different.”

Moving Forward

Casandra Bennet had been praying that her husband, Derrick, a retired Army captain, would start a personal relationship with Christ. Praise God, her prayers were answered as Derrick received the Lord on Thursday night after a chaplain-led class on love languages. “I said I’m ready to change it up, to die to my old self, and become a new person. If I’m going to change, I want the whole change,” he said.

Derrick and Casandra Bennett renewed their marriage vows in Alaska.

Derrick and Casandra Bennett renewed their marriage vows in Alaska.

The next morning, Friday, Derrick took another step forward, by going back. On Nov. 22, 2009, in Iraq, Derrick was traveling in a reconstruction team convoy. He normally would have been in the second vehicle, but things got switched around for various reasons and his friend Briand “Lil Will” Williams ended up in that position. Briand was shot and killed just after talking with Derrick. The experience tore Derrick up inside and haunted him. At Samaritan Lodge, he left Briand’s memorial bracelet nailed to the camp’s flagpole in a ceremony that both honored his friend and allowed himself to move on.

Later the same morning, he and Casandra renewed their marriage vows and Derrick was baptized.

“I’m just happy that God restored me and allowed me to hit the reset button,” he said.

Mark and Lisa Hale are all smiles after catching a salmon in Lake Clark.

Mark and Lisa Hale of La Mesa, California, are all smiles after catching a salmon in Lake Clark.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Mark Hale joined Derrick in remembering a fallen brother before being baptized. “Eric was one of my soldiers. He was a friend. He was under my command and he died. He was killed. I’ve lived with that for 17 years, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m going to leave that here.”

Mark received Christ the night before he took his company to Iraq in 2003, but had not been walking in faith for years. In Alaska he recommitted himself to the Lord and renewed his vows with his wife, Lisa.

“My faith wasn’t a priority, but it is now,” he said before his baptism. “That’s why I want to do this today.”

Finding New Focus

Marine Chief Warrant Officer 5 Scott Gilman and his wife, Debbie, also rededicated their marriage and were baptized. Debbie had become a Christian years ago and had been praying for Scott to come to faith.

Scott and Debbie Gilman found the healing power of Christ while in Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots.

Scott and Debbie Gilman of Stafford, Virginia, found the healing power of Christ while in Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots.

“I was always hoping that he would find and see what I had in my heart—and he did,” Debbie said of Scott’s decision to follow Jesus. “He saw it! And I’m thankful for that. And I’m thankful for each and every one of you [lodge staff and volunteers].”

Scott served almost 30 years in the Marine Corps, with multiple combat deployments to Iraq. “My biggest injury is to my heart and to my mind, struggling with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” he said. Recently, he’s been in a better place, but for many years his behavior was unhealthy for himself and his family. He said the healing power of Christ that the couple found through Operation Heal Our Patriots is “definitely a miracle for us.”

“The spiritual aspect of this program—it’s a key thing for Debbie and me—because, over the past several years, we’ve struggled,” he recounted. “We want to bring God back into our life. This program just speaks to us. It’s what we need.”

Mike Diehn received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in Alaska. He and Jess found new hope for their marriage.

Mike Diehn received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in Alaska. He and Jess found new hope for their marriage.

Finally, Army Sergeant Mike Diehn of Plato, Minnesota, gave his life to Christ and was later baptized after renewing his vows with his wife, Jessica. “It’s a new start in life for me,” Mike said.

While serving in Iraq, Mike’s vehicle hit an antitank mine. The attack killed one of his fellow soldiers and left Mike with a broken back, brain injury, and post-traumatic stress—injuries that continue to affect him.

The couple learned how to communicate better during their week in Alaska, and, with a new focus on Christ, they are now hopeful for the future of their marriage.

The Lord did wonderful things in the lives of these five couples and also among the four other couples with them, who all left Alaska giving thanks that they had grown closer to each other and to God.

So, remember when Fridays roll around in late spring, summer, and early fall, please pray and also give thanks for what God is doing through Operation Heal Our Patriots.

Derrick Bennett was among those baptized on a recent August Friday.

Derrick Bennett of Chelsea, Alabama, was among those baptized on a recent August Friday.


The work of Operation Heal Our Patriots also continues year-round and far beyond Alaska through our Family Care program. Staff chaplains minister to military couples through regular contact, spiritual counsel, and training activities. Couples mentor other couples through the Key Leader program, and opportunities to serve those in need through North American Ministries are available with Team Patriot.

SUPPORT
Bless the Marriage of a Military Couple Operation Heal Our Patriots helps military couples build a strong spiritual foundation during a week of Biblically based workshops, relationship-building wilderness activities, and individual care by our retired military chaplains. We offer all this free of charge to these American heroes as a token of our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. Your gift will help us cover the costs—including transportation, lodging, activities, and long-term Family Care—so that we can help them find hope in the Lord.

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