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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Beyond Patriotism

Glad Tidings Church is missionally minded in serving veterans

By Ken Horn
Nov. 10, 2013

Veterans filled the platform of Glad Tidings Church in Lake Charles, La., two and three deep in some places on Sunday, June 30. Perhaps 150 former members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard graced the stage evoking a crescendo of thanksgiving from the appreciative congregation.

I felt privileged to be there ... where people were thanking God and honoring individuals who had given a portion of their lives — often at great cost — for the cause of freedom.

Seated in the front row on the aisle, I warmly grasped the hands of those who walked past me when the ceremony concluded.

One of those hands belonged to Charles Liddell, one of the few remaining Tuskegee Airmen.

A major motion picture recently honored an incredible feat, the heroic breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball by Jackie Robinson, himself a veteran of World War II.

But the Tuskegee Airmen — or “Red Tails” as they liked to be called (for the bright red color they painted their planes’ tails) — broke another color barrier a few years earlier during that same war.

They were the first blacks to serve as military pilots (and ground crew) — and they did it with heroic distinction. Liddell followed that duty with distinguished public and Christian service. He attends Glad Tidings.

Some 150 of Liddell’s fellow veterans and congregants added to the distinction that graced the Glad Tidings platform.

Besides World War II veterans, there were representatives of nearly every major conflict since those dark days — Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraqi Freedom and more.

Stephen Perry, senior pastor of Glad Tidings, has long had a burden to honor veterans. Recently, a related vision crystalized, a desire to mobilize veterans for ministry to other vets and families throughout the city.

Families of vets and wounded warriors have needs that often go unmet. Perry saw a need for the church to step up to minister to such, regardless of church affiliation.

The weekend before Independence Day was devoted to a special thrust to mobilize and honor veterans, beginning with a special “Beyond the Call” breakfast on Saturday, June 29.

The challenge at that breakfast was issued by Ed Ferguson. Ed and Faith Ferguson served as Assemblies of God world missionaries for 42 years. More than 13 of those years were spent pastoring a military church in Okinawa, where they saw some 2,500 military personnel rotate through the church. (They also saw a significant move of God among Buddhists during that time.) The Fergusons’ last few years of ministry were spent in Germany where they ministered to hundreds of wounded in a military hospital.

Ready to retire as a missionary, Ferguson was asked by Scott McChrystal, military/VA representative for Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Ministries, to use his experience with the military to travel for AG U.S. Missions doing ministry to and for those on active duty and their families, in addition to veterans and the wounded. Ferguson accepted and for the past three years has traveled with Faith across the U.S. ministering.

During the breakfast, Ferguson encouraged the gathered veterans and challenged them to get engaged in doing ministry to active duty service personnel and their families. This involves checking on families of those deployed and doing a variety of practical tasks for them, such as cutting grass and fixing cars. Ferguson challenged the veterans to visit the wounded in hospitals and respond to their needs, such as clothing, toiletries and other basics of life, as he saw in Germany.

Perry strongly believes the church should connect with military personnel. “At the heart and core of America’s history,” he says, “is an unashamed faith in God.” So the Sunday celebration included patriotic music, specials and a human video.

Purple Heart recipient James Johnson, who calls himself a “walking paraplegic,” reminded the congregation there is a price that has been paid for freedom.

A native of Lake Charles, Johnson was a sergeant and an infantry squad leader for the National Guard patrolling the streets of Baghdad. While riding in the back of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle on Jan. 10, 2005, the transport rolled over a bomb, killing two and wounding four. Johnson spent the next 12 months in recovery from his injuries, the worst of which was to his spinal cord.

With God’s help and the medical care he received, Johnson beat the odds and learned to walk again.

“Every time I actually stand up or walk upstairs,” Johnson says, “it’s a testimony to the miracle that God performed in my life.” A pastor’s son, Johnson received a significant check from the church for the Wounded Warrior Project he represents.

Perry shared a patriotic/faith narrative, and McChrystal spoke.

Outside, dozens of flags lined the main border of the church. Inside, patriotic décor included Kevin Wold’s impressive collection of military memorabilia. Not a veteran himself, Wold displays his collection in the church at every opportunity to honor past and active service members. He intends to eventually open a museum to honor veterans.

Glad Tidings is one church that has determined to make a difference in the lives of the military — past and present — and their families. Many churches are also doing this. The need is there. The opportunities are there. What will your church do?

KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


Memories of Service

A few of the veterans who attend Glad Tidings Church in Lake Charles, La., shared their military — and spiritual — experiences the weekend of June 29-30.

Many vets are grateful God protected them in battle when they didn’t know Him. Ernest Carnahan, a buck sergeant in the Army Air Corps during World War II, had the hazardous role of tail gunner on a B-17. He came to Christ a year after the war ended.

Bill Fullerton, an Army captain who served two tours in Vietnam, was shot down twice — and came home without a scratch. He was led to the Lord after his years of service.

Vietnam vet David Vidrine operated a 10-ton Army tractor between North and South Vietnam. Despite many close calls, “I never got hit,” he says. “I know I had the hand of God over me.” When Vidrine came home, he experienced what many veterans of that conflict faced.

“I got spit on, cussed, accused of being a baby killer,” Vidrine says. “But when I returned to my mother and father’s home, the streets were filled with vehicles.” Four decades after this experience, he still gets emotional telling it. More than 100 people were waiting to welcome him back. When Vidrine first walked into Glad Tidings more than 20 years ago, “I found home,” he says.

Don Sistrunk also experienced a lack of support. As a medic in Vietnam, he saw devastating injuries. Raised in church, he was away from the Lord during the conflict. “I had a godly mother, and she was praying every day,” he says. “I definitely knew it was God who brought me back. I’m thankful for that.”

Darwin Gomez had known the Lord since she was very young but says she did not really surrender to Him until she was in the Army. She needed that relationship as she participated in military missions in South America involving drug cartels. She knew God’s hand was on her life during her service from 1997-2001.

Kelly Hernandez served with the Army during Desert Storm. “I saw a few things I wish I hadn’t,” she says. Not walking closely with God while she served, Hernandez says she has drawn close to God since coming to Glad Tidings.

Jim Rawley is a veteran of both the Navy and Army. A helicopter pilot, he didn’t know the Lord when he served in the mid-’60s. Rawley turned to drugs after leaving the military. “There are so many veterans who are trying to numb some emotional pain,” he says. “Typically, alcohol or drugs are what they use to self-medicate.”

Today, Rawley is in leadership in the Overcomers ministry at Glad Tidings. “This is a powerful ministry,” he says. “I know what it has done for me.”

Robert Dean Crawford was backslidden when he served as a Marine in the combat engineers during both Desert Storm and Desert Shield. His wartime experiences eventually led him back to the Lord.

— Ken Horn

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