“Nothing’s better than standing around talking to a horse to help you forget your problems,” comments Terry Hostetler, who serves as director for WWV and pours his energies into the ministry. Clearly his heart is invested in befriending veterans—those he describes on the WWV Facebook page as “having trouble re-establishing themselves into society after their service for whatever reasons.”
The Oklahoma County District Attorney recently commended WWV for its efforts to support nonviolent offenders participating in the county’s diversion program for veterans. Those who successfully complete the diversion program have all charges dropped. Walking with Vets is one of several community organizations that work together to provide a network of supports for program participants.
WWV has helped more than sixty veterans furnish and move into apartments that the Veterans Administration provides. Those who have received such help often welcome the chance to help pass the favor along to others. Pastor Norman Berry leads a twelve step program for those who have had trouble with substance abuse. Terry's son Jake, a veteran who lives with a severe leg injury he received in Iraq, frequently drives veterans to appointments for medical care or to apply for benefits.
Because of the trust they have established, Metro members find themselves delivering food baskets furnished by a local pantry to those who would otherwise refuse needed help. They have provided overnight stays in a motel to help cool down domestic spats and create space for couples to reconcile. And sometimes what they offer is simply companionship through a hard time, including a visit to the horses.
Most, if not all, of the veterans assisted by WWV live with a disability of some sort. Post-traumatic stress disorder is perhaps universal. Substance abuse, a common coping strategy for living with PTSD, often compounds problems. WWV also sees vets with traumatic brain injury and amputations, signature disabilities of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Metro, a young congregation, began worshiping together in January of 2011. As they were asking what the Lord would have them to do with their heart for the disenfranchised, they invited a chaplain from the large veterans hospital in Oklahoma City to come speak. Learning that few if any churches were actively reaching out to struggling veterans, the group saw the need and felt God calling them to help. About that time, the District Attorney’s diversion program was beginning, so Metro members volunteered to assist.
“They wondered what a pacifist church was doing in the middle of a veterans group,” recounts Berry. “Our focus was that we were there to help. We believe that veterans are victims of war too. Things sort of took off from that point.”
The church worships in Berry’s home in Mustang, a suburb of Oklahoma City. They hope to move WWV to a location in the south part of the city as resources become available. As a small house church (six adults), everyone finds a way to contribute to WWV, either financially or through volunteer time.
“The success of our situation has come from the credibility that Terry has earned,” comments Berry. A veteran who served in the Marines during the Vietnam era, Hostetler has a friendly way of building trust with other veterans and with leaders of the programs that serve them.
“We're supposed to help each other,” Hostetler believes. “That's what I've learned since I was a little bitty kid. When your brother's got a problem, you try to help them.”
Additional Resources on Ministry with Veterans
Norman Berry observes that few churches in Oklahoma City had invested themselves in ministering to the needs of the military veterans who are struggling to adapt to civilian life, often with newly acquired disabilities. We share below the story of an Anabaptist group in New York that is beginning to look for ways to respond to these needs. We also offer resources and suggestions for ways congregations can be a healing presence for veterans.
Christine Guth is Program Director and newsletter editor for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.
Resources on healing the spiritual wounds of war. Handout prepared by Carolyn Heggen for "Healing the Spiritual Wounds of War," a workshop at Phoenix 2013 Mennonite Church USA Convention.
How Might Congregations Accompany Veterans? Handout prepared by Carolyn Heggen for "Healing the Spiritual Wounds of War," a workshop at Phoenix 2013 Mennonite Church USA Convention.
To connect with other Anabaptists concerned about ministry with veterans or healing the spiritual wounds of war, contact Jason Boone, Coordinating Minister for the Peace and Justice Support Network.
Is your congregation involved with veterans with disabilities? We invite you to share your stories with us.