Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Lewis Holston serves as a loadmaster on planes that drop paratroopers and cargo into combat zones.
On a recent six-month deployment to a remote hotspot, Holston — a deacon of the WindSong Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Ark. — searched for fellow Christians with whom to worship.
Dennis Saucier, director of the American Military Evangelizing Nations ministry, known as AMEN, connected the 26-year Air Force veteran with a few other members of Churches of Christ.
Two stateside Christians with military backgrounds — John Phillis of the Northeast Church of Christ in Albuquerque, N.M., and Stephen Paul Wolfe of the Edgemere Church of Christ in Wichita Falls, Texas — supplied songbooks and worship materials.
“The AMEN program is only as successful as the military member allows,” Holston said. “It is very easy to deploy and forget about everything but the mission.”
As Saucier points out, the U.S. Armed Forces represent a distinct subculture of American life, presenting opportunities — and challenges — for church leaders.
“As in any missionary endeavor, it is important to understand the culture you are trying to reach, just as Paul did when reaching out to either the Jewish or Gentile communities,” said Saucier, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who served as a chaplain.
To help improve outreach to service personnel, three ministries associated with Churches of Christ recently convened a meeting to discuss each group’s mission, goals and methods for ministering to the Christian military community, organizers said.
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Esequiel Perez never bragged about his service in World War II. If anything, the soft-spoken veteran downplayed his role.
“I didn’t go into too much combat or anything,” the 77-year-old says.
Yet his children – Yolanda, Rosa Anna, Sandra, Joel, Debra, Hector and Zeke – grew up knowing that their father had done his part to defend the world, and why.
In the Perez family, soldiers’ sacrifice was honored and the nation’s freedom celebrated. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July were times for reverence. When the children erected a flag pole in the front yard, Esequiel welcomed it – but warned that the stars and stripes must not ever touch the ground and should be lighted if flown at night.
“That’s how proud my dad is of this country,” said Rosa Anna Garza, 48.
He also wanted an easier life for his children than he had – he still has nightmares involving foxholes, and blames grenades for his hearing problems – so he never pushed them to join the military.
For No. 6 child Hector, though, the Army beckoned.
A Hawaiian honeymoon sounded perfect, so Neil and Carolyn Myers decided to fly for the first time.
Taking off, they were a little apprehensive.
“We just held hands and said, ‘Lord, you may be taking us, but we’re coming together,’” Neil Myers joked.
Did I mention that — by the time the couple got around to a honeymoon — they were in their mid-70s and had been married for 57 years?
Their trip came a year and a half ago, but it brought an experience they won’t soon forget. “I’m thoroughly convinced the Lord had a hand in this,” said Neil Myers, a retired preacher who serves as an elder for the West Walker Church of Christ in Carbon Hill, Ala.
What made their island trek so memorable? Not the sand or the waves. Not the tour of historic Pearl Harbor. Not even the travel at 35,000 feet.
Rather, the couple’s introduction to the Church of Christ at Pearl Harbor — a close-knit congregation that has served an estimated 3,000 military personnel and their families over the last 60 years — made a lasting impression.
“We spent the Lord’s day with them,” Neil Myers said. “We were impressed with the worship. It was very spiritual, and the lessons were good.”
This story appears in the May 2016 edition of The Christian Chronicle.
A heart for Hawaii (reporting from Honolulu): Pearl Harbor church has served military families for 59 years, but future at risk.
HONOLULU — “Aloha!”
Mark Young stretches out each syllable of the traditional Hawaiian greeting as 150-plus church members and visitors fill the blue-gray wooden pews in a simple, A-frame auditorium.
“Welcome to the Pearl Harbor Church of Christ, where we keep a little bit of the States and a lot of the Polynesian culture together,” says Young, an Army major sporting shorts, sandals and a flowery shirt.
As the Sunday assembly starts, a fighter jet roars overhead — a reminder of the nearby U.S. Air Force and Navy bases known as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Over nearly six decades, the Pearl Harbor church has served as the temporary home for an estimated 3,000 military personnel and their families, minister and elder Steve Byrne said.
“I’ve been to congregations from Germany to Italy to all over the place, and there’s no place like this,” said Army Master Sgt. Q.P. Bean, arriving with his wife, Charidy, and infant daughter, Lily.
“When you walk through that door, you’re not a stranger,” the Alabama native added. “People just flock around you. It’s like a king or royalty coming in. It’s overwhelming.”
But Hawaii’s largest Church of Christ must raise $1.3 million to avoid eviction from the Navy property it has leased since 1956, said Byrne and fellow elders John Graham and William Wood.
This story appears in the March 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.
Finalist (part of three-story portfolio), Magazine News Religion Reporting, Religion News Association
By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – On a Sunday afternoon, the high-pitched chatter of boys and girls playing fills the home of Marine Staff Sgt. Ahmal Coles and his wife, Whitney.
In the living room, the children’s parents and other grownups share Christian fellowship and sing hymns such as “Worthy is the Lamb” and “I Will Call Upon the Lord.”
This weekly small-group meeting brings together military families from the Roosevelt Drive Church of Christ, a 200-member congregation in nearby Jacksonville, N.C., just outside the main gates of this massive Marine Corps base.
The casual gathering — with homemade cookies and iced tea — takes a serious turn when the time comes for prayer requests.
“I would say I’m probably wound up a little tight right now,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Harrison, a Roosevelt Drive member since 2008. “I’ve got a lot of stress because I’m about to leave.”
In about a month, the baby-faced Harrison will kiss the pretty young woman in the breezy red dress — his wife, Lindsay — goodbye and fly off to war.
SHERMAN, Texas (AP) — After 38 years, Chief Master Sgt. Luther L. Rose’s long road home from the Vietnam War — and his family’s excruciating wait to say goodbye — finally ended Friday.
A special operations C-130 Hercules roared overhead in a flying tribute as an Air Force honor guard placed Rose’s flag-draped coffin at the feet of his elderly mother, Thelma Rose, and daughter, Janise Langford, who was 9 when his AC-47 gunship crashed.
A 21-gun salute rang out and a trumpeter played “Taps” as Rose received a full military burial at Akers Cemetery in Sherman, about 60 miles north of Dallas.
“My grandmother has always held out a certain shred of hope that he would come back,” Langford said afterward. “And I think, with this closure today, we all know that’s not possible.
“I appreciate what we’ve done today,” she added. “We were able to bring him home.”
On June 23, 1966, the 30-year-old Rose was on an AC-47 gunship on a nighttime armed reconnaissance mission over southern Laos when a crew member radioed that the craft was on fire. Witnesses reported it crashed into a wooded area 30 miles northeast of Tchepone, a Laotian town near the Marine fire base at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, the Defense Department said Friday. No parachutes were seen from the plane, which carried a six-member crew, the statement said.
A joint team of U.S. and Lao specialists traveled to a suspected crash site in October 1994, and a villager took them to an area where aircraft wreckage and materials related to crew members, including a crewman’s identification tag, were found.
The remains of Rose and other crew members were recovered in 1995 by a joint U.S.-Lao excavation team and underwent a wide array of forensic testing at the military laboratory in Hawaii.
The Pentagon still lists more than 88,000 American service members as missing in action, including 1,855 from the Vietnam War, said the statement from the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.
Several dozen times a year, missing soldiers are identified and their families allowed to bury them, said Jo Anne Shirley, a Dalton, Ga., woman who is board chairman of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
“That’s celebration time for us and it’s also a motivation that what we’ve been doing is paying off,” said Shirley, whose brother, U.S. Air Force Maj. Bobby M. Jones, has been listed as missing in action since November 1972.
Langford flew to the Central Identification Laboratory at Hickman Air Force Base in Hawaii last week to receive her father’s remains.
Capt. Sung-Joo Park, a chaplain from Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls, delivered the eulogy and told Thelma Rose that her suffering was finally over. Langford gently rubbed her grandmother’s back as both wept softly.
“All of us owe our great thanks to you and your granddaughter,” Park said.
Brig. Gen. Jim Whitmore, wing commander at Sheppard, presented them with the flag that covered the casket. He asked them to accept it “in honor of their loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us, to keep us free.”
About 50 Air Force recruits and their instructors attended the service in their dress blues, joined by about 100 friends, relatives and others.
“I just wanted to honor Mr. Rose and his family and the sacrifice that they’ve all made,” said Tim Baca, a Sherman pastor whose son, Marine Cpl. Brandon Baca, 23, spent his first day in Iraq on Friday.
Thelma Rose said her son always loved airplanes and was a prankster.
“I’m a monkey like that son of mine was,” she joked. “He was always cutting up.”
All the years of waiting were difficult for Langford, who was almost 7 when her dad left for Vietnam. Despite the wait, she praised the military for working to bring its soldiers home.
“It’s a labor of love that they do in identifying our soldiers, our loved ones,” she said. “I’m just proud that I live in a country where we do that for our servicemen and we do that for our families.”