“Come for dinner and fellowship if your spouse is deployed or just working late.” That’s the invitation for Northwoods UMC’s Deployed Spouses Dinners, held the second Monday each month in the fellowship hall of this Jacksonville, NC church.
It is advertised through Facebook, email, the church bulletin/website, a banner outside the church, and by word of mouth. Volunteers reach out to local establishments to secure food and drink donations. The night of the dinner, volunteers arrive to prepare the fellowship hall and ensure the food is all prepared/delivered. The church provides childcare, but volunteers also provide a children’s program so the spouses have an opportunity to socialize with peers after the families have eaten.
This begins the remarkable spiritual aspect of the program—an environment created as an opportunity for spouses to connect, to share, to support one another, to be encouraged, and to experience the love of Jesus Christ. Most of those in attendance are not members of Northwoods, but these young spouses endure incredible emotional stress and weariness, raising children by themselves for long periods of time, during difficult times of their marriage, while anxiously awaiting the return of their loved ones.
For a brief time, on this one night, these military spouses get a well-deserved break from the chaos of their life in a community of faith which affirms them, encourages them, and loves them.
Katie Kilian, current coordinator said, “In the summer of 2015, the coordinator moved away and I felt pulled to serve in what I felt was a vital program at Northwoods. Countless times, I had heard fellow spouses talking in Facebook forums, at running club, around the preschool about the struggle at dinnertime during deployment. I’d seen faces at the dinners and then in church the next week or a few weeks later. In short, I knew that this program could not end because the coordinator was moving.”
“As I took the reins of the program, I realized even more how impactful this program is in making disciples. We are breaking bread with those in need of some love and care. We are inviting folks into our church in a way that shows them Northwoods is putting our outreach into action. I have seen attendees begin their children’s preschool careers at our Christian-based preschool and I’ve seen these same children attend our Vacation Bible School.”
Sheila Barth and her husband, Kevin, lead the children’s program. “When my husband was deployed to Desert Storm, ladies from Northwoods watched our children so the spouses could enjoy time together. They said they did it because someone took care of their children when their husbands were deployed to Vietnam. I am honored and humbled to carry that tradition forward, to share the love of God with the children of these spouses, and in some small way, make their time of separation easier.”
Glenda Fehl shares, “I was introduced to Deployed Spouses Dinner two years ago. I had not been going to church for ten years. This program helped me to start forming relationships with Northwoods’ disciples and brought me back into the church. Deployed Spouses Dinner has been a big help and blessing to my family!”
Another recent participant adds, “With already juggling work, single parenthood, and everything that always seems to break in the house as soon as my husband leaves, having that monthly dinner with people who are in the same situation helps with coping with deployments.”
The Deployed Spouses Dinner not only provides families who may be limping along through a deployment a place to have a hot meal and camaraderie, but a sacred place where church members can sow the seeds of God’s love or strengthen a relationship with Christ.