Memorial Day - A Student Veteran

June 02, 2011

Capt. Jon Stoddard with co-laborersJonathan Stoddard, MDiv Student, recently spoke on "Urban Missions in the Military." Stationed in Iraq for two tours with the Marines, he sees a great gospel need in the military. Jon gives practical advice to the Westminster family worldwide.

Pictured: Captain Stoddard (Left), Gunnery Sergeant Riles (middle) and Master Sergeant Krueger

Visit his website and track his ministry preparation; contact him with questions and encouragement.

How can Westminster better help those who have served in the military, and those who are serving now?

The most important way to help those who serve is to pray for them. These young men and women are willing to give their lives in service to country, yet many of them do not know Christ as their Savior. Next, I think it is important for us to raise awareness about the needs in the military and needs of veterans. There are military bases across this country and large veteran populations in major cities. Those within the Westminster community will at some point interact with those who have served and we need to be prepared to minister to them.

The needs of those in the military are numerous. Above all, they need to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. At Westminster we learn in our apologetics classes that any worldview, when pushed enough, cannot consistently operate in the world. Many members of our military, because of the incredible stresses placed upon them, are quickly finding out the limits of their own worldviews. This naturally leads to an identity crisis. Christians need to be near our members of the military so that we can show them how true identity lies in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, a great way the Westminster community can help those who serve is through the training they receive in the strong biblical counseling program at Westminster. Many veterans have experienced incredible suffering. It was only because God's Spirit sustained me, that I could process the events of my two deployments in Iraq. Because many veterans do not feed from the living waters of Scripture, we should not be surprised to hear of increases in post traumatic stress or suicidal behavior during times of war. Biblical counseling provides a framework for us to understand and help those who have lived through the traumatic experiences of war. 

Jon StoddardIn what ways can a Westminster student get involved in serving those in the military, and serving veterans?

Before a Westminster student gets involved with the military I would recommend he or she take a few months and learn what it is like to serve in the military. The military is a very unique culture, and in some ways is much different that most of America. Just as a pastor needs to know the people in his neighborhood, people need to have some understanding of the military culture in order to effectively minister to them. There are several students at Westminster who have served in the military, I would recommend that a student sit down with one of them and learn what it is like to be in the military. It is valuable to speak with those who are ministering people in the military, but those who spent time on the ground as privates or platoon commanders really understand military culture. 

After one understands the military culture there are several ways to minister to people who serve in the military. Joining the military is the obvious choice and there is a need for solid Christians to actively serve in the military. Additionally, spending four years in the military can be some of the best preparation for ministry elsewhere. 

Besides joining the military there are other ways to serve. Veterans are greatly overrepresented among the homeless population. If you can get connected with a homeless ministry in your city, you will likely find yourself working with a number of veterans. There are also several organizations who have organized military ministries. The Navigators and Officer's Christian Fellowship are two such organizations. Another way to serve would be to contact the chaplain at a local military base. (You could find this information on most base websites.) Many chaplains are very busy and if you let them know about your desire to minister to those in the military I'm sure they would have several ministry opportunities for you.  

How can Westminster pray for people in the military?

  • Above all, we should pray for the salvation of those in the military. 
  • One segment of the military that we often forget about is the families of those who serve. With our current wars, mothers and fathers are separated from their spouses and children for extended periods of time. Additionally there are others whose father, mother, brother, or spouse has been killed in the war. These people need constant prayer, first to know Christ and then also to be able to find peace and hope amidst loss and separation. 
  • Those who are currently serving need prayer for protection. There are also many leaders, from young corporals to generals, who make decisions each day that will determine the life or death of others. We need to pray that they will have wisdom as they make these decisions. 
  • We should also pray for those who return from the wars. Many young men and woman in the military have first-hand knowledge of great suffering and loss. They have gruesome images from the war seared into their minds. Pray that they might know the gospel message. I deeply believe that the only way our service members can find peace after war is through the message of hope in Christ. 

Street in Iraq