This article originally appeared in the print edition of the AFA Journal and here.
“I mean, honestly – real honestly – the night before we left, I told him I didn’t want to come, and I didn’t want to spend time with him,” Jenna recalled. “For me, this was kind of it … if this didn’t fix everything, then I was just done.”
“I was like, ‘Well, let’s just pray for a miracle then,’” Caleb said. “Then we get here – it’s absolutely a miracle. Being surrounded by people that are praying and affording us the opportunity to look at each other differently just changed everything.”
Jenna agreed, “I don’t know what else to say, but it’s changed our lives.”
Marriages are hurting
Retired Navy Seal Caleb Jones and his wife Jenna are one of the hundreds of military couples who have seen their marriage healed and restored as a result of the work the Lord is doing through Operation Heal Our Patriots (OHOP), a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse (SP).
Not surprisingly, the Joneses represent a large number of families who have experienced extreme marital challenges as a result of serving in the armed forces and defending this nation.
According to the Department of Defense, over 50,000 U.S. service members have been wounded in action as a result of the global war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Add to that post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other invisible wounds, and the number of injured is reported to be in the hundreds of thousands. Recovery is often a long and difficult journey for all wounded warriors, but it can prove to be especially difficult for those who are married.
“Marriage is tough under the best of circumstances. But when you have an injury, it’s [really] tough,” SP president and CEO Franklin Graham said. “SP is wanting to try to save the marriages of these men and women who have served our country so valiantly.”
Ministry offers hope
OHOP provides wounded veterans and their spouses the opportunity for spiritual refreshment, physical renewal, and marriage enrichment. Located on the protected shores of Hardenburg Bay, Samaritan Lodge Alaska (SLA) overlooks Lake Clark, one of Alaska’s deepest lakes. Surrounded by mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife, the serenity of SLA offers participants a respite from the affairs of daily life.
The week-long stay allows each couple to have much needed uninterrupted time to focus on their relationship with God and one another. They have their own personal cabin with all the amenities one could imagine and are able to choose from a wide range of activities such as fishing, kayaking, hiking, bear watching, and boating.
In addition to activities and free time, most importantly, OHOP’s staff chaplains lead devotion each morning and biblically-based Marriage Resiliency Workshops each evening.
OHOP executive director and retired USMC Brigadier General Jim Walker said of the workshops, “We talk with them about the basis of their marriage, … how you blend the individual roles, how your roles change based on deployments, based on injuries, and shifts in responsibilities in the marriage.”
With all the things to choose from, Graham said, “These couples would rather be doing [the workshops] than all these other activities.”
Retired Navy Chaplain Emory Lussi said, “We’ve seen Jesus change lives so that they become all they were meant to be as God’s creation, as an individual, but now also as a couple.”
The program’s impact does not stop at the lodge in Alaska. OHOP knows the importance of long-term healing.
“We feel that when God brings somebody across our path, it’s for a reason, and we have an aftercare program,” Graham said. “We have chaplains that follow up with every one of these couples when they get back home.”
OHOP also assists in finding the families a church home, as well as providing additional resources to assist them in their journey and their continued effort to build a Christ-centered marriage. In addition to aftercare, all couples who participate in OHOP are invited to a yearly reunion, all expenses paid, where couples can reconnect with each other and their new friends. Some even renew their marriage vows.
“We have a great debt that we owe them,” Graham said. “And the military and organizations can only go so far, and this is something we feel that we can do to help.”
Editor’s note: Quotes from Caleb and Jenna Jones and from OHOP staff members were gathered from various videos and related websites.
Resources for help
OHOP will begin accepting applications for the 2020 season on February 1, 2020. If accepted, all travel to and from Samaritan Lodge Alaska is planned, provided, and paid for by Samaritan’s Purse. For more information, visit samaritanspurse.org.
AFA has recently become aware of some of the following resources for veterans, particularly for the wounded. They are not necessarily faith-based, but may offer invaluable assistance and services to veterans.
Operation Homefront operationhomefront.org (financial, family)
OH’s mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive in the communities they’ve worked hard to protect. They seek to offer short-term and critical financial assistance.
Wounded Warrior Project woundedwarriorproject.org (handicaps/injuries, medical/health, employment
Through programs such as Warriors to Work, mental health support, physical wellness, peer support, Warrior Care Network, and more, WWP is changing the way America’s injured veterans are empowered, employed, and engaged.
Semper Fi Fund semperfifund.org (financial, medical/health)
The Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to combat wounded, critically ill, and catastrophically injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.
Veterans Airlift Command veteransairlift.org (handicaps/injuries, medical/health, transportation)
Injuries often result in extended hospitalizations and separation from families. VAC provides free air transportation to post-9/11 combat wounded veterans and their families for medical and other purposes through a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots.
Disabled Sports USA disabledsportsusa.org (recreation/retreats)
For both military and civilians, DSUSA hopes to improve the lives of wounded warriors, youth, and adults with disabilities by providing over 50 different sports and recreation opportunities.
Helping A Hero helpingahero.org (homes, recreation/retreats, financial)
HAH provides support for military personnel severely injured in the war on terror. They provide specially adapted homes for qualifying service members through partnerships with builder, developer, community, and veteran. HAH also provides marriage and caregiver retreats, recreational activities, and financial support.
Help Our Military Heroes helpourmilitaryheroes.org (vans, handicaps/injuries)
By providing customized transportation, HOMH hopes to restore mobility and help rekindle a level of independence. HOMH provides fully equipped, adaptive minivans to the most severely wounded, and ill service members who sustained their injuries while on active duty.