National Guard outreach expanding to 33 states
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- Located 15 miles west of Fort Knox, Buck Grove Baptist Church already reaches out to military families -- and is intent on doing more.
Pastor Dave Campbell attended a launch ceremony in Frankfort today (May 6) for Partners in Care aimed at matching Kentucky congregations with National Guard enlistees needing help.
"Right now, it's food, but it can develop into other things," Campbell said of Buck Grove's new ministry. "Offering transportation might be one thing we can do. As we learn what other churches are doing, it may spur us on to say, 'Hey, we can do that.'"
Partners in Care was founded in 2005 by a Maryland National Guard chaplain and has since spread to 18 states. Kentucky is one of 15 more states slated to affiliate with the program during 2013.
Through the grassroots program, churches, synagogues and other groups sign an agreement to provide services to National Guard employees regardless of their religious beliefs. Placed in a database, they will be matched with requests for assistance from Guard members in various counties across Kentucky.
This can include such outreach as food and clothing, emergency financial assistance, auto repairs or child care. Each participating church or group decides what services it will offer.
Two other Kentucky Baptist congregations also are part of the Kentucky launch and about 10 others have expressed interest, Chaplain Maj. Jerry Shacklett said.
The help is greatly needed, Shacklett said, noting that the 8,000 National Guard personnel in Kentucky face such problems as unemployment, marital discord and post traumatic stress disorder.
Some units have been deployed overseas three times in the past decade, said Shacklett, who pastored two Kentucky Baptist churches before becoming a full-time National Guard chaplain.
With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, some may think that Guard members are facing less stress but that isn't necessarily true, Shacklett said.
"It may appear that way, but a lot of soldiers come back and have a problem getting jobs," said the chaplain, noting that some weren't employed before going overseas.
Even though Partners in Care is an interdenominational initiative, Eric Allen of the Kentucky Baptist Convention said it offers churches a chance to act as Christ's hands and feet.
"If chaplains are willing to refer enlisted men and women to the local church for assistance, we must be ready to seize this ministry opportunity," said Allen, leader of the KBC's mission mobilization team. "It may only come once."
Chaplain Col. William Lee, the Guard chaplain in Maryland who designed Partners in Care, noted that the four churches that originally signed up for the ministry have expanded to 92 in all 23 Maryland counties. Last year, they helped 138 families, with emergency food assistance as the number one need.
"We weren't sure what the Lord was going to do with this idea," Lee said. "It's given churches the opportunity to live out their faith in a very practical way and touch folks who live in their community.
"They can meet people at their point of need with love and compassion," the Maryland chaplain continued. "A lot of churches have veterans [as members] and this allows them to be involved."
Partners in Care is spreading beyond the National Guard, said Wayne Stinchcomb, a weekend Guard chaplain who attends a Southern Baptist church in suburban Baltimore.
Stinchcomb recently received a referral from the Veterans Administration, for example, and was able to provide a $150 grocery store gift card to a retired Navy veteran who had lost his civilian job.
"He was elated and so grateful there was an organization out there to give him a hand up," Stinchcomb said. "These folks like a hand up, not a handout."
In addition to his chaplain duties, Stinchcomb is president of Praise N Thunder, a nine-year-old evangelistic group of Christian motorcycle riders.
Praise N Thunder joined Partners in Care in 2010 and last year aided nearly 20 Guard families. That included distributing $400 in gift cards and half a dozen food baskets during the Christmas season.
"What a great way to minister outside your four walls," Stinchcomb said. "As Southern Baptists, our desire is to preach the Gospel verbally, but this is preaching the Gospel with action.
People are moved by it, Stinchcomb added. "A lot of times people think we're doing actions because we want something. This says, 'We don't want anything.'"
Even though the program is open to all faiths (or no faith), and help is extended to everyone, churches aren't prohibited from sharing about Jesus Christ, Shacklett said.
"A church still has the right to ask, 'Would you be interested in us telling you about Christ?'" Shacklett said. "Our hope is people [receiving help] will get connected to a church."
Churches interested in learning more can contact Shacklett at 502-607-1232 or 502-607-1563 or, by e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Walker of Huntington, W.Va., wrote this article for Kentucky Baptist Communications, a division of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (on the Web at www.kybaptist.org; Facebook, Kentucky Baptist Convention; Twitter, @kentuckybaptist).