What is it like to be an American soldier, stationed overseas? We see news reports but how do the troops who serve feel? How can we offer encouragement? What about the people caught in the middle of conflict? How can we help them? Years ago, one of my church members received answers to those questions at an airport encounter with another passenger.

“We were stranded in Atlanta. You know me. I’ll talk to anyone. He was in camouflage so I told him about my young son, being obsessed with the Army and asking me if he should join the army or work at Burger King. Well, that tickled the soldier and we began to talk. I told him it was my son’s birthday. He produced a coin and gave it to my son as a present. It was a medal given to soldiers who deserve a reward. I was touched he would do that for a child he never met.”

“My son was thrilled. Later, my husband said: “Did you happen to notice his rank?” That’s when I found out he was a general. I was amazed that a man with so much on his plate could take the time to help a little boy he didn’t know. I wanted to thank him.”

“We took the medal to my son’s kindergarten class for show and tell. The entire class then wrote and drew pictures to send to the general, our newfound friend. I never expected to hear back. We just wanted to thank him for making a little boy’s birthday special.”

The General received the package from the class and wrote the following letter:

“You are a champ, and I appreciate what you are doing. Tell your Pastor, I have 5 chaplains assigned to me, and the best thing he/she could do is write a letter of encouragement to help them take care of my soldiers. They are extremely hard workers and because of how busy we are, they have to do services at all hours of the day or night, provide counsel to soldiers on a wide array of problems, and spend their spare time at the hospital tending to wounded soldiers. If the pastors could send a note of encouragement, it would be greatly appreciated.”

“As for me or my men, we really don’t need much. We are an Infantry unit, so we only take what can be carried on our backs. The soldiers do love cookies, especially Oreos and any kind of chocolate chip. Chocolate things do not send well through the mail, but chocolate chip seems to be OK. The best thing would be letters from the children of your church like the ones you sent before. The soldiers still talk about your son’s class and how nice it was to get handmade cards. The only other thing would be if your church sent something soldiers could carry to remember their faith, like a small cross, or what we used to call angel pins. We have an old saying ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’ meaning when someone is shooting at you, even non-believers start looking for help from above.”

“My soldiers are special to me so any prayer for them is greatly appreciated. I try to answer all mail and email that comes to me. (I usually answer about 15-20 a night.)  Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but it is important to me to answer a wife or Mother when they take the time to write with a problem or a question, or just to help calm their nerves about their soldier.  I have a lot of combat veterans, but I also have a lot of young men and women where this is the first time they have been out of the US. I have to put them in a place where people are shooting at them, so they and their families are understandably anxious.”

“Thanks for the offer to do something for the soldiers. In addition to the cards such as you sent before, they also need small things to give to the children. The children here will break your heart. They live in horrible conditions amidst war every day, but they are bright and cheerful and need more help than we can give. Small toys, pencils, balloons, would be great gifts.”

Isaiah 6 reminds us: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (6:8) We all have our opportunities to serve God in a variety of ways. But some of those ways involve possible hardship, sacrifice and danger. May the rest of us stand ready to offer encouragement and support.

If you are interested in supporting our troops overseas, you can donate to the USO or you can send your own care package. However, there are scam organizations out there so be careful. The Department of Defense provides a list of organizations that have been vetted as trustworthy. Also, a hand-written thank-you note is always appreciated. Most of all continue to keep our troops in your prayers.