Salvation in Christ Changes the Lives of Military Couples

July 10, 2017 • United States
Marine Sergeant Daniel Erlandson was baptized in Lake Clark by our chaplains.
Marine Sergeant Daniel Erlandson was baptized in Lake Clark by our chaplains.

Week Six of Operation Heal Our Patriots highlights healing, renewal, and rebirth.

Theresa Erlandson couldn’t shake the intense feeling that something wasn’t right. She prayed and prayed, crying out to God for mercy.

The dreaded call still came from Afghanistan.

Marine Sergeant Daniel Erlandson and his wife Theresa left Alaska with a stronger marriage.

Marine Sergeant Daniel Erlandson and his wife Theresa left Alaska with a stronger marriage.

“There was dead air on the phone. I knew something was wrong before he said anything,” Theresa said.

Her husband Daniel, a Marine sergeant, had been shot during an ambush when a bullet ricocheted off a wall and into his left shoulder.

Theresa sobbed on the phone, terrified, yet also overwhelmed with thanksgiving. “I threw myself on the floor and thanked God that he didn’t die,” she said.

Three days before Daniel was shot, he was involved in an IED blast that led to a traumatic brain injury. He also suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Erlandsons were one of 10 military couples who last week participated in Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse project designed to strengthen military marriages. For 16 weeks this summer, couples—each with at least one spouse wounded in combat after 9/11—will come for a week of marriage enrichment at Samaritan Lodge Alaska.

Samaritan's Purse Franklin Graham prays for Operation Heal Our Patriots participants after baptisms on July 7.

Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham prays for Operation Heal Our Patriots participants after baptisms on July 7.

Theresa and Daniel bonded through activities such as fishing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing. They learned tools to help strengthen their marriage through a Biblically-based marriage enrichment course. At week’s end, they were one of seven couples who renewed their marriage vows during a special ceremony on the beach at Samaritan Lodge.

But for the Erlandsons, the most important transformation came halfway through the week when Daniel prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. “I came to the realization that I’d never really surrendered my life to Christ,” he said.

Daniel was among six people who were baptized in Lake Clark on Friday, July 7.

A Life Surrendered

About the time Daniel was ending his third and final deployment to Afghanistan in 2014, Theresa was battling major health issues of her own. She’d had a kidney transplant at age 10, her father being the organ donor, but the kidney was failing. She started dialysis and prayed for another transplant.

She did receive a new kidney—and it’s been functioning well—but with Daniel still struggling from his injuries, their marriage was suffering before they traveled to Alaska over Fourth of July week.

“We were arguing all the time about things we never argued about. He was very impatient. I felt that he didn’t care about me,” Theresa said.

During Operation Heal Our Patriots, Theresa learned from our chaplains the importance of forgiving her husband.

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Theresa came to Alaska as a Christian, but, Daniel realized, for the first time, that he also needed to make a decision to follow Jesus.

“We’ve been going to church for years, but I was going through the motions. I had never given my life to Christ,” Daniel explained. “I wasn’t putting God first.”

“I came to the realization that I’d never really surrendered my life to Christ.”—Daniel Erlandson

In Alaska, Daniel also committed to going to school for a Biblical studies degree. The couple is ready to focus their marriage on serving God.

“I realize how much God needs to be the Head of our lives,” Daniel said.

Abandoned by God

Marine Corporal Andy Florentino and his wife Amanda were also among couples in Alaska last week. Andy’s convoy in Iraq was attacked by insurgents and he sustained shrapnel wounds to the right side of his body. He also broke his back during another incident in Iraq. The injuries eventually led to his departure from the military.

“He directed a lot of resentment toward me for having to get out of the Marine Corps. He felt like he was choosing me or the Marines,” Amanda said. “It was easier for him to blame me than to accept that it was because of his injuries he couldn’t do his job.”

Marine Corporal Andy Florentino and his wife Amanda enjoyed  fishing together in Alaska.

Marine Corporal Andy Florentino and his wife Amanda enjoyed fishing together in Alaska.

When the tension and strife in their marriage finally came to a head, Andy and Amanda separated for a few months.

Although Andy and Amanda reconciled, they knew they still weren’t where they wanted to be in their relationship. Operation Heal Our Patriots was an opportunity to seek renewal and healing.

“[This week] we’re learning tools in a more in-depth format to help our marriage,” Andy said.

Andy also came to peace with a question he’d been wrestling with since he was wounded in combat. “I’ve been struggling with feeling abandoned by God,” he shared. “This week helped alleviate anger I’ve been carrying for a long time.”

Andy said the chaplains helped him understand that God’s comfort is always with him, and that God has carried him through the dark times. With this new perspective, Andy made a decision for eternity.

“Tuesday night at 9:30 I gave my life over to Christ,” he said.

Amanda also committed her life to Christ last week, and the Florentinos also rededicated their marriage to God and each other in Friday’s ceremony. Friday was their 11th wedding anniversary.

“We’re finally at a place where we are comfortable and happy,” Amanda said. “This was the perfect opportunity for us to recommit.”

Renewed Commitment

Army Sergeant Ray Nuckoles and his wife Amanda have been married 12 years, and with three children, rarely have time to spend alone with each other.

“We thought [Operation Heal Our Patriots] would draw us closer,” Amanda said. “Instead of just going on vacation, we wanted to do something that would help our marriage.”

Army Sergeant Ray Nuckoles and his wife Amanda rededicated their marriage while in Alaska.

Army Sergeant Ray Nuckoles and his wife Amanda rededicated their marriage while in Alaska.

Ray was hesitant, though. He worried about being away from the kids. He worried about navigating through large crowds, especially in airports, as he deals with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ray was diagnosed with the disorder after being injured multiple times in Iraq. He sustained a knee injury, broken back, and traumatic brain injury. Even so, Ray had a hard time leaving Iraq.

“I was a squad leader, so I didn’t want to leave [my squad] there. After you’ve fought for your country, everything else just doesn’t feel as important,” he said.

Transitioning out of the military was a harsh reality for Ray to accept. Ray and Amanda rededicated their marriage in Alaska because despite the changes and pain they’ve endured, they want their marriage to thrive.

“It was important for me to convey to Amanda that I was willing to stay connected and committed,” Ray said. “We’ve learned so much about each other and tools to make sure our marriage does stay God-centered.”

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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