When Brenda Pinson accidentally left her wallet in a gas station restroom, she was not thinking about God’s sovereign hand in all things—she was aggravated. But God used the mishap four years ago to open her eyes to the needs of U.S. servicemen and women, and to start a ministry of encouragement to PCA chaplains and troops both at home and abroad.
The wallet ended up in the hands of an enlisted woman who had just come home from Iraq to get married. “I didn’t have any connection to the military at the time,” said Pinson, now director of the Military Outreach Ministry (MOM) at Lake Oconee Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Eatonton, Ga., “God just put someone in my path.”
The woman’s new husband, also in the military, returned the wallet to Pinson in person just days after the honeymoon and his wife’s return to war. As he handed her the wallet, the soldier made a comment Pinson would not forget. “He just looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know if you believe in God, but I believe we were destined to meet.’”
The soldier, not knowing what God intended but trusting the Spirit’s urging, showed Pinson pictures of his base in Iraq and told her stories of his life and the experience of war. A short time later, a friend at Lake Oconee Presbyterian Church made a comment to Pinson that they should do something to minister to soldiers.
“I just said, ‘I’m ready,’” Pinson remembers. “It was meant to be.”
Adopting a Chaplain
In 2006, Pinson contacted Gary Hitzfeld, with Chaplain Ministries for the PCA’s Mission to North America (MNA) and associate coordinator for civilian chaplains with PRJC (Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel) to ask what she could do. Shortly after, Pinson and a number of others at Lake Oconee started MOM, a ministry that supports and encourages military chaplains, troops, and their families through prayer, correspondence, and gifts.
“We began writing PCA chaplains and asking what we could do to help,” Pinson said. “Many of them wrote back with specific needs.” With this information in hand, the group began preparing and sending specially-designed care packages and other supplies that the chaplains would then dispense to the soldiers who needed them most.
Connecting the church to chaplains is at the heart of MNA Chaplain Ministries and the PRJC, the larger PCA-endorsed agency through which MNA Chaplain Ministries operates. For the Lake Oconee MOM group, adopting a number of PCA chaplains through the PRJC has allowed them to build relationships with individual chaplains and provide for the needs of military personnel in a specific, personal ways.
According to Hitzfeld, the best way to minister to the troops overseas is through their chaplain. “A chaplain’s success as a pastor is based on his ability to have relationships,” Hitzfeld said. “Being able to give a gift to military personnel is a significant way he can encourage those relationships. And it gives people in our pews the opportunity to present the gospel to troops who would never step foot in a church.”
One of the PCA chaplains the MOM group has supported since day one is W. Michael Oliver, who is currently stationed in Iraq. “The Military Outreach Ministry of Lake Oconee Presbyterian Church has faithfully supported me and my ministry during two deployments,” Oliver wrote in an email to byFaith. “They’ve sent me supplies to increase the morale of my soldiers—things like DVDs, non-perishable food, toiletries, and religious support materials. More importantly, they provide prayer support to my unit, my ministry, my family, and to me. Having the Military Outreach Ministry as a part of my team has been a tremendous blessing.”
Meeting Needs Abroad and at Home
The MOM group typically organizes one military outreach project every quarter. This past April, they packaged 22 boxes of food and sent them to six chaplains. Another time, Pinson recalls, they sent 360 pounds of food at one time.
But sending food isn’t the only way Pinson and the Military Outreach Ministry serve. Pinson told of a chaplain who contacted her regarding soldiers in a field hospital who had nothing to wear but hospital gowns. “He mentioned that they could use t-shirts, gym shorts, and socks,” Pinson said. The MOM group gathered more than 200 items to send to the hospitalized soldiers. “They were just thrilled to get them,” Pinson said, pointing out that the group frequently receives thank you notes for the gifts they’ve sent. “It’s been very rewarding for us,” she said.
The Lake Oconee ministry reaches out in other ways as well. Once they focused on a group of women soldiers, providing packages with items specifically geared for women. On another occasion they sent 100 copies of a book geared toward military personnel to chaplains who could hand them directly to soldiers who needed encouragement. Once Pinson even received a request that an Iraqi school where some of the soldiers served needed supplies. After meeting that need, the chaplain who’d made the request sent back pictures showing the excitement of the Iraqi children as they received the gifts. “The kids were so appreciative,” Pinson said.
The MOM ministry reaches out to military personnel and veterans at home as well. Just before Christmas last year, when they heard that troops were coming back to Ft. Stewart after serving in the war, they drove three hours to hand-deliver Christmas presents to them.
Pinson is grateful for the way God’s hand has touched this ministry and sees it as a privilege to serve those who fight for freedom. “It’s given me the opportunity to share the love of Christ with soldiers around the world.” The blessing of Lake Oconee’s Military Outreach Ministry has far surpassed the frustration over the wallet Pinson lost four years ago, she says. Remembering the prophetic words of the newly married soldier, she said, “It was just meant to be.”