Military Families Continue to Give Back

December 10, 2020 • United States
Army Sergeant Chris and Nicol Weis process Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts in Dallas, Texas.
Army Sergeant Chris and Nicol Weis process Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts in Dallas, Texas.

A group of Operation Heal Our Patriots families volunteer together at the Operation Christmas Child processing center in Texas.

When Marine Staff Sergeant Curtis Fowler walked on his own for the first time in two years his family praised God for a healing that once seemed impossible. Curtis had been unable to walk normally after something went wrong during a procedure to repair a decade-old back injury suffered in Iraq.

Marine Staff Sergeant Curtis and Jina Fowler help prepare shoeboxes for distribution.

Marine Staff Sergeant Curtis and Jina Fowler help prepare shoeboxes for distribution.

Curtis went into the surgery hoping for long-awaited relief. Instead, he awoke to a paralyzed left leg and a long, painful journey of recovery. Eventually, though, Curtis moved from using a wheelchair to crutches and then to a cane.

Earlier this year, Curtis finally bid farewell to the cane. When he and his wife, Jina, and son, Hogan, recently joined other military families to process Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in Dallas, Texas, Curtis walked in without assistance and with no hint at all of his former injury.

“I’ve always wanted to be on this end processing the shoeboxes,” Curtis said. “This is the next level. If people don’t come to do this, the shoeboxes won’t get out there. I’ve been to some of the areas where the shoeboxes are going, and they need Jesus.”

Curtis, Jina, and their son Hogan pray for the children who will receive the gift-filled shoeboxes.

Curtis, Jina, and their son Hogan pray for the children who will receive the gift-filled shoeboxes.

Curtis and Jina, along with Army Sergeant Chris and Nicol Weis and Army Sergeant Jeremy and Kristiana Keeler, worked hard to inspect and ready shoeboxes for worldwide distribution to children in need. Thousands of volunteers across our eight shoebox processing centers throughout the country are busy preparing and praying over gift-filled shoeboxes.

The Fowlers have packed shoeboxes but this was their first time volunteering at a processing center.

Although Curtis had wanted to participate for a while, his back injury was so severe for so many years prior to surgery that he could hardly walk and “coming here to do something like this—it wasn’t happening,” Curtis said, grateful for God’s blessing and healing in recent months.

Ongoing Ministry

Curtis and Jina volunteered in Dallas as part of a unique group of military families. Each of the couples had participated in Operation Heal Our Patriots, a project of Samaritan’s Purse focused on strengthening the marriages of families with at least one spouse wounded in combat or combat-related activities after 9/11.

Army Sergeant Jeremy and Kristiana Keeler enjoyed kayaking in Alaska.

Veterans and their spouses come to Samaritan Lodge Alaska for a week of Biblically based marriage enrichment. In Alaska, the couples bond with each other, grow closer to God, and build friendships against the backdrop of the beautiful Alaska wilderness.

That week in Alaska, though, is “just the beginning,” said Luis Anda, a retired military chaplain and one of our regional chaplains with Operation Heal Our Patriots. “We see ourselves as a family with a lifelong commitment to helping our wounded veterans and spouses grow in their faith, their marriages, and into the people God has created them to be.”

That’s why the project strongly emphasizes the Aftercare ministry component, which includes a network of chaplains, staff, and, of course, a family of more than 1,200 fellow military couples providing support, encouragement, and accountability for the long haul.

“We see ourselves as a family with a lifelong commitment to helping our wounded veterans and spouses grow in their faith.”

The Aftercare ministry is designed to provide a lifelong lifeline and resource to couples as they continue working through marriage difficulties and struggles from battlefield experiences. This often includes phone calls, emails, personal chaplain visits, and an around-the-clock chaplain on call to serve as needed.

Aftercare also provides regional marriage enrichment seminars and an annual Operation Heal Our Patriots reunion, as well as opportunities to serve through Operation Christmas Child and disaster relief.

Kristiana Keeler and daughter Kryslin serve alongside chaplain Luis Anda.

Kristiana Keeler and daughter Kryslin serve alongside chaplain Luis Anda.

Luis and the Aftercare team organized the processing center event as another way for military couples to serve and to also connect with each other. Luis said it’s one more avenue for them to “encourage one another to march on and finish this race.”

For the Fowlers, the Aftercare ministry was integral to Curtis experiencing the life-changing power of the Gospel. He came to faith in Jesus Christ during a regional Aftercare event almost a year after their time in Alaska.

“If it wasn’t for Operation Heal Our Patriots, I wouldn’t have ended up in the church,” Curtis said, who is now mentoring young adults in his church, specifically those who are interested in joining the military.

Serving Together

Army Sergeant Chris and Nicol Weis joined the group to process shoebox gifts because it was a special way to “get more connected with Operation Heal Our Patriots and other veteran families. We need that,” Nicol said.

Army Sergeant Chris and Nicol Weis rededicated their marriage to God last year at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

Army Sergeant Chris and Nicol Weis rededicated their marriage to God last year at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

Nicol and Chris had little interaction with other military couples before they went to Samaritan Lodge Alaska last year. “We felt a little alienated. We didn’t have anyone who had been through similar experiences,” Nicol said.

Nicol described Alaska as the “pivotal moment” in their marriage. The couple rededicated their marriage and they were both baptized in Alaska. “We’d been walking on solo roads for a while,” she said.

Army Sergeant Jeremy and Kristiana Keeler attended Operation Heal Our Patriots seven years ago and the experience continues to help shape and refine their relationship. “So many of the things they teach you are so practical and it gives you a time to focus on what it’s important. That was a tremendous gift for our marriage,” Kristiana said. “Samaritan’s Purse really blessed us.”

Military families make an eternal impact as they serve in Jesus' Name.

Military families make an eternal impact as they serve in Jesus’ Name.

When the couple returned from Alaska they began looking for opportunities to bless others, and, now, a trip to the Dallas processing center has become one of the family’s favorite Christmas traditions.

“You feel like you’re part of something big and you’re sharing God’s love,” Kristiana said. “The atmosphere in the processing center is so joyful.”

The Keelers especially enjoy praying over the shoebox gifts, and this year they were able to experience that with other Operation Heal Our Patriots participants—their “second church family,” Jeremy said.

The couple stays connected with military families through events such as the annual reunion, and Jeremy has volunteered with Team Patriot, a Samaritan’s Purse initiative that gives Operation Heal Our Patriots participants the opportunity to volunteer in Jesus’ Name in hard-hit communities after natural disasters.

Jeremy is grateful for the Aftercare ministry and the chaplains and staff who continue to invest in their lives.

“They stick with us and keep connecting with us; it’s not just a one-time thing.”

Learn more about Operation Heal Our Patriots and the Aftercare ministry.

Although National Collection Week has ended, you can still build a shoebox gift online and bless a child in need!

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

Operation Heal Our Patriots 013960
Suggested Gift: $60
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