Military Couples Get Fresh Start in Alaska

June 4, 2017 • United States
Military couples came away refreshed after a week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots. Some couples, including Marine Corporal Chad and Lindsey Hiser, publicly renewed their marriage vows.
Military couples came away refreshed after a week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska through Operation Heal Our Patriots. Some couples, including Marine Corporal Chad and Lindsey Hiser, publicly renewed their marriage vows.

God's healing love is at work through Operation Heal Our Patriots.

The first week of Operation Heal Our Patriots 2017 began with wintry weather, but ended June 2 with the sun shining brightly over Lake Clark, Alaska, as four individuals were baptized and four couples publicly renewed their marriage vows.

Army Sergeant First Class Jon and Natasha Thomas were among couples who rededicated their marriage in Alaska.

Army Sergeant First Class Jon and Natasha Thomas were among couples who rededicated their marriage in Alaska.

Army Sergeant First Class Jon Thomas and his wife Natasha were among those who renewed their vows. They recommitted themselves to their marriage and resolved to build it on a firm foundation of faith in Jesus Christ and His Word. “It gives me and my wife a new start in our marriage,” Jon said.

The baptisms and rededication ceremony were the wonderful culmination of a week dedicated to strengthening the marriages of military personnel injured in combat after 9/11. Nine couples participated—together attending daily, Biblically-based marriage classes and devotions at Samaritan Lodge Alaska while also enjoying guided wilderness excursions. Two retired military chaplains and their wives led the classroom time and were available for private Christian counseling.

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Strengthening Marriages and Faith

Jon Thomas was severely injured while serving in Afghanistan. As he was on morning guard duty, a suspicious vehicle came down a closed road and started accelerating toward the compound. Jon fired flares and several warning shots, but the vehicle kept coming. He had to kill the suicidal Afghan driver—an act which thereby saved American lives—but the driver’s brother detonated the vehicle-borne bomb remotely.

The explosion was premature—no one inside the base was injured—but it did knock Jon from his guard tower resulting in injuries to his brain, back, and spine. He still has shrapnel in his right temple.

A warm, patriotic welcome awaits couples when they arrive at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

A warm, patriotic welcome awaits couples when they arrive at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

More recently, in 2015, Jon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it’s been an especially rough two years for the Tennessee couple as the cancer exacerbated his post-traumatic stress from combat service. Jon, who’s now in remission, earlier this year joined his wife in following Jesus Christ, so their enrichment week in Alaska was well-timed to work through marital issues.

Jon expressed his gratitude for the week’s training: “I just want to say thank you. I came over here with a lot of demons on my shoulders and everything with my marriage. A lot of stuff has been addressed.” He said he feels his marriage and his faith will now be stronger.

Natasha was thankful for a clean slate for their marriage, new communication tools she learned in the classes, and chaplains who encouraged her husband. “You’ve got two very well-seasoned chaplains here that can connect to these men. It makes all the difference.”

From Darkness to Light

Navy Petty Officer First Class Eric Buelow was baptized on Friday June 2 in Lake Clark. Saved earlier in the week, his new relationship with Christ is the key to transforming his marriage to Rhonda. [Chaplain Dan Stephens is at right.]

Navy Petty Officer First Class Eric Buelow was baptized on Friday June 2 in Lake Clark. Saved earlier in the week, his new relationship with Christ is the key to transforming his marriage to Rhonda. [Chaplain Dan Stephens is at right.]

Navy Petty Officer First Class Eric Buelow’s spiritual experience during the week mirrored the weather to an extent. By his own admission, he began in darkness, but finished in the light.

“Prior to my getting here, my life was being controlled by the devil, without a doubt. I [had] no joy, was unhappy, miserable,” he said.

But, on Tuesday, May 30, he talked with one of the chaplains at length and received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior around 11:30 p.m. “Chaplain Dan [Stephens] helped me…get on the right path…and accept God in my life,” he said.

“Coming here has changed my life already. I can feel it. I need to read the Bible. Last night I read the Bible more than I have in my entire life,” Eric told Samaritan Lodge staff and volunteers the next day. The change in his demeanor was obvious to all—his formerly sullen attitude had become open and friendly.

who both achieved the rank of Navy Petty Officer First Class, toured the community.

Eric and Rhonda Buelow, who both achieved the rank of Navy Petty Officer First Class, toured the small community around Samaritan Lodge.

“It was quite a trip getting there,” Chaplain Dan said, “but I thank God that the Holy Spirit did His work last night and brought [Eric] to the realization that he needed Christ.”

Eric’s wife Rhonda, also a Navy veteran, was amazed. “We needed a miracle and we got one,” she said. Eric, who finished his military career serving as the handler to an explosive detection dog, has been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury since an IED incident in Afghanistan in 2012. That event, and others, had left him bitter, negatively affecting his disposition and marriage.

“What I prayed would happen, happened,” said Rhonda, a believer since her youth. “I think this…will mend us as a couple. I’m sure that this has saved our marriage.”

Eric cites the flag-waving hero’s welcome he received upon arrival at Samaritan Lodge as a turning point in opening his heart to what our staff shared with him. “As soon as I saw all those people out there with the flags clapping for me, that was really touching,” he said. “It uplifted me immediately.”

As he came to know God this week, the gloomy fog that had become his life began to lift. “I never really knew God, I just knew what I was taught, but I never was in touch with Him. Now I am,” Eric said. “Having God in my life now, even through this whole week, me and my wife have seen a tremendous change in our relationship.”

A New Dawn

In addition to the hearty welcome that greets couples at Samaritan Lodge, the uniquely Christian atmosphere daily created by the caring staff also deeply affects these military families.

“I feel like this is a reflection of heaven. All of you have been so nice and treated us like family. You went out of your way to do so many kind things for us,” Lindsey Hiser, wife of Marine Corporal Chad Hiser, told our team.

Military Marriages--Marine Corporal Chad and Lindsey Hiser fished for trout in Lake Clark.

Marine Corporal Chad and Lindsey Hiser fished for trout and pike in Lake Clark.

Chad echoed his spouse: “All the staff—you’ve been a blessing. You’ve shown the face of God to all of us. I really appreciate that. It means a lot.” He mentioned the smiles on people’s faces and special little things that both the kitchen and housekeeping crews did for him.

The Hisers rededicated their marriage to God and each other on the shores of Lake Clark on Friday. Chad served in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later in Afghanistan, married Lindsey in 2004, attempted suicide in 2005, and came to know the grace of God in 2009. Lindsey was saved before they were married.

While the couple is determined to live for Jesus, it can be a daily struggle to deal with post-traumatic stress on top of the rest of life’s challenges. The couple needed a restart and they found it in Alaska.

“It’s like a new dawn,” Chad said, “like we’re newly married again.

“This has been one of the best weeks I’ve ever had.”

Army Specialist Steven and Cassandra Covert rededicated their marriage while in Alaska. Please pray for 150 more military couples scheduled to come to Alaska this summer for Bible-based marriage enrichment.

Army Specialist Steven and Cassandra Covert rededicated their marriage while in Alaska for the first week of Operation Heal Our Patriots. Please pray for 150 more military couples scheduled to come to Alaska this summer for Bible-based marriage enrichment.

SUPPORT
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 aftercare—so that we can help them find hope in the Lord.
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 aftercare—so that we can help them find hope in the Lord.

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