This past Sunday churches across the United States honored those who have served in the armed forces in observance of Veterans Day, but some ministries never take a break and provide year-round support for our nation's military heroes.
North Gate Ministries is a nondenominational Christian fellowship founded in 2008 near the 29 Palms Marine Corps Air and Ground Combat Center. Ryker R. Kern, pastor and director of the ministry, believes young military personnel in our armed forces are primed and ready to receive the Gospel message.
"The typical Marine that I work with is between the ages of 19 and 22 years old. They're usually unmarried, and they're forming who they are. And they're at a point in their life where they're more willing to listen and to devote themselves to the Lord than any other point in their life," Kern told The Christian Post on Monday.
But the constant turnover of incoming and outgoing Marines also makes it difficult for North Gate Ministries to grow in one area. Kern might spend six months to two years ministering to a group of Marines, when suddenly they are sent somewhere else in the world and a new group comes to the base.
"So, in other words, I can't build a megachurch, but my church actually is mega, because I'm constantly sending them out and new people are coming," he said.
Kern believes military Christians have characteristics that are suitable for ministry too because they are already disciplined, motivated and self-sacrificing. They are a "breed of Christian that will go anywhere and do anything. They're people that are already willing to pay a price and already are paying it," he said.
On Veterans Day, Kern encourages those he serves to enjoy the many community events that are put on for them. Soon, for example, they will all go to Knott's Berry Farm, an amusement park that has offered free admission to veterans for the last 23 years around the holiday.
In North Carolina, homeless veterans staying at the Veterans Restoration Quarters of the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM) are also encouraged to take advantage of community support during the holiday.
"We try to get our vets to go out in the community to events that are happening," said Cheryl Wilson, volunteer and special events director for the organization, who said some local restaurants offer free food to veterans.
Wilson says the VRQ houses 250 men each night, and most of them are homeless veterans (there are also 10 beds for female veterans reserved in a separate shelter for women). When restaurants aren't giving away food to them, homeless vets in the area rely on ABCCM for food, shelter, job training and more.
Both Wilson and Kern say individuals and churches that want to support veterans year-round can do so by supporting already established ministries. People can volunteer their time and money, send care packages and letters to active duty service members, or just send a card of appreciation to the veterans at a local homeless ministry.
Military Ministry (MM), a division of Campus Crusade for Christ International, offers churches another way of helping veterans: start a Bridges to Healing ministry.
"What we're doing is we're trying to equip churches and communities to care for the military in their midst," Cynthia Odom, communications director for MM, said of the Bridges to Healing program.
MM has trained over 600 churches across the U.S. to minister to service members and their families while learning to understand their unique needs. Sometimes these needs are simple – child care, groceries, lawn care – but others, such as certain spiritual needs or helping vets deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can be difficult to help with.
"A church usually has ministries already in place, whether it's counseling ministries or marriage ministries or something like that, they usually have these things already in place, so it's just letting them know about the military's special circumstances and special needs," said Odom.