Week One of the Operation Heal Our Patriots summer season ends with a celebration of marriage and new life in Christ
Five Operation Heal Our Patriots couples renewed their marriage vows last Friday, June 6, in Port Alsworth, Alaska, during a simple but profound ceremony marked by tears of healing and hope.
The couples, all of whom had a spouse wounded in combat in either Iraq or Afghanistan, recommitted their lives to God and to each other on the final day of their weeklong Alaska marriage retreat. They asked forgiveness of one another and promised to extend grace in the future. Supervisory Chaplain Jim Fisher, a retired Navy chaplain, led the rededication, which included a reading of Ephesians 5:21–33.
“I know there are seasons in our life, and I think this is a new season,” said Shannon Montoya, whose husband Johnny was injured while serving two deployments with the Marines in Iraq. “We’ve been through so many trials and blows being thrown to us, and we were definitely leaning apart. This gave us an opportunity to lean on each other now and just renew where we want to stand and on what foundation. I’m really excited.”
“Jesus Brought Us Here”
Another of the couples, retired Army Specialist David Kelley and his wife, Stacey, of Yelm, Washington, were baptized shortly after their ceremony in the cold-enough-to-shock-your-system waters of Lake Clark. They had trusted Christ as Lord and Savior the night before in the chaplain’s office.Standing on the beach before they were baptized, both David and Stacey addressed a crowd of Samaritan’s Purse staff, volunteers, and supportive town residents.
“I’ve been fighting a lot of demons these last few years,” David said. “Just being here [this week], a light bulb went off, and I realized I needed more help.
He was injured during a yearlong deployment to Iraq in 2005-2006 and suffers with the effects of a broken back, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Stacey said David rarely leaves their home, yet he was the one who took the initiative to apply for the Operation Heal Our Patriots retreat. It was, nevertheless, a struggle for him to get there. As passengers boarded their flight from Seattle to Anchorage, David’s anxiety increased, and he got on and off the plane seven times, she said. In the end, of course, David made it, and the couple left the week with confidence in God’s plans for their lives.
“This has been a life-changing experience,” Stacey said. “Jesus brought us here.”
The entire experience in Alaska is designed to bring couples closer to each other and to God. Whether it’s kayaking, hiking, fishing, daily devotions, or eight sessions of marriage enrichment training, each opportunity offers a chance to discover something new about their relationships or about the Creator.
Retired Army Sergeant First Class Junior Murguia and his wife, Heather, enjoyed learning to kayak together.“You have to work as a team to have the kayak going straight, to know when to turn, [to control] how fast you want to go,” said Junior, who was injured in an ambush in Iraq and in an IED attack in Afghanistan. “It definitely makes a big difference when my wife and I are both working together.”
Chaplain Fisher even relates his devotions on Psalm 23 to the couples’ bear-watching experience. In verse 6, the English word follow, as in “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me,” comes from the Hebrew word radaph, which he said means to pursue relentlessly like a bear or wolf after its prey.
“Jesus Christ follows us,” he said. “He follows us relentlessly, like a deadly predator, to bring life and salvation and hope to everyone who allows themselves to be caught.
Fishing together in Alaska’s pristine lakes became a relationship-building opportunity for retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Kelly Smith and her husband Daryl, who will celebrate their 25th anniversary in July. Kelly had a transhumeral amputation of her left arm last year due to injuries she suffered in December 2007 in Iraq. In the same incident, she was shot in her right ankle, knee, hip, chest, and face.
On one of their day trips they tried an interesting technique.“Kelly was fishing with the lure,” Daryl said. “I’d throw it out for her, give her the rod, she’d jerk the pole, and I’d wind it up a little bit. She’d jerk it. I’d wind it. The first time doing that, she caught the fish. It was all teamwork once again.”
After 11 total deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 50 surgeries, the marriage retreat was a welcomed experience together for the Smiths, far from hospital rooms. Kelly was glad to be treated as a husband and wife, not as a veteran and caregiver.
“This is the most I’ve smiled in seven years,” Kelly said. “We were truly blessed to be here.”
Please continue to pray for Week One couples and for the different groups of 10 couples scheduled to come to Alaska each week for 15 weeks total. Also pray for the Operation Heal Our Patriots aftercare program as staff members continue to minister to couples during the years to come.