Nearly 300 couples gathered in West Virginia to strengthen their marriages and rekindle important friendships.
On Saturday afternoon, March 25, Michael and Rebecca Bennett walked out of a small West Virginia chapel clearly moved by the commitment they had just made to God and to each other.
And though Saturday’s simple rededication ceremony in front of a small group of friends was free of the pomp and grandeur of their large wedding 13 years ago, it carried significant weight.
“We needed a witness,” Rebecca said. “To see where I was and where we were and to see where we are now. God is truly amazing.”
The Bennetts—who both served in the Air Force—were one of 12 military couples to rededicate their marriages to God and each other as part of the Operation Heal Our Patriots Reunion March 24-26, 2017. Nearly 300 couples—each with at least one spouse injured in combat or combat-related activity since 9/11—attended the weekend of marriage enrichment where they heard from an inspiring lineup of speakers and got a chance to reunite with friends. Most important, the couples were reminded of God’s power to heal them and their marriages.
Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham launched the event reminding participants that marriage retreats and programs don’t save people or their marriages—only God can do that.
“I want you to know that God knows everything about you,” he said. “And God loves you.
“We are here this weekend to be together and for you to be with your spouses and to hopefully learn some tools that will help you in marriage and help you in life. But I wouldn’t want us to come this weekend and not first take a moment just to share with you that God loves you. He made you. He created you. And He cares for you very, very much.”
Wounded Marriages Are Finding Real Hope
Since its beginning in 2012, nearly 700 couples have become part of the Operation Heal Our Patriots family, the Samaritan’s Purse project that shares God’s healing love with injured service personnel and their spouses. Alongside ongoing aftercare ministry, the annual Reunion provides veteran couples a unique opportunity to strengthen their marriages, their relationship with Christ, and their friendships with other military families.
Participants this year learned from practical workshops on how to set healthy boundaries, deal with post-traumatic stress, handle blended family dynamics, and find a post-injury, post-military identity in Christ. Music and worship were led by the Tommy Coomes Band and Dennis Agajanian. Couples also were inspired by retired military leaders, including Army Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell, whose harrowing personal testimony regarding the 9/11 Pentagon attack and the severe burns he suffered over 60 percent of his body deeply affected the audience. He repeatedly pointed to Christ as His comfort and strength in an unspeakably difficult situation.
Birdwell also singled out for praise some of the younger veterans who joined the military to fight in the War on Terror. “Some of you were in sixth or seventh grade on 9/11,” Birdwell told couples. “But you later joined because of what happened in our nation on 9/11. God bless each and every one of you for being willing.”
Missing limbs, prosthetics, canes, walkers, and about two dozen service dogs visibly bore witness to the price that patriot couples have paid. Invisible but just as dramatic conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury have also taken a very heavy toll on lives and marriages.
“You have to re-roadmap your brain,” well-known marriage counselors Michael and Amy Smalley told couples. “You’ve seen a lot of things that are not good, but you have to take every thought captive and make it conform to Christ.”
“Do you feel like God has your back? Because He does,” added Amy.
A Family and CommunityMichael and Rebecca Bennett chose this weekend and the Reunion setting to recommit their marriage to God, in part, because they view the other military couples as family.
“Samaritan’s Purse has almost become like a second family to us,” Rebecca said. “In just the short time that they’ve known us, they’ve reached out and embraced us. I had a wounded heart and wounded spirit and toward the end of my retirement they kind of swooped me up. I’m glad we have the opportunity to rededicate in a place like this, with people like this. It’s a renewal of our marriage and of our faith in God.”
In speaking to couples, longtime friend of Samaritan’s Purse Greta Van Susteren said that what stands out most to her about Operation Heal Our Patriots is the family and community being built for veterans and their spouses.
“Y’all have made such an incredible sacrifice,” she said. “Day in and day out it stays with you and your families, and it takes a huge toll. And what I love most about this remarkable program is that you get to work on your marriages and you also get to become part of a community.”Each summer Operation Heal Our Patriots welcomes up to 160 new military couples—10 per week—to Samaritan Lodge Alaska for a weeklong marriage enrichment experience. Following that memorable week, these couples are invited to our annual Reunion and our Aftercare events throughout the country, they are provided 24/7 access to Aftercare chaplains, and they are connected with other military couples (and local churches) as part of a growing community of help, hope, and compassionate friendships. The 2017 summer season will mark the project’s sixth year of ministry.
“What this organization does, it keeps people married,” said Marine Staff Sergeant Jeff Silva who attended the reunion with his wife Gladys.
As the Reunion drew to a close, Aftercare Manager and Chaplain Patrick Fleming led devotions on Sunday morning.
“Your homes need to be built on the Rock, on Jesus Christ. There’s no other way,” said Fleming. “Everything we did this weekend is great, but if it’s not built on Jesus Christ it’s in danger of collapsing.”