“Hey, Mom, guess who’s coming to dinner?”
That may have been the question Peter’s wife asked her mother when Peter invited the Lord Jesus, James and John into her home. The problem was Peter’s mother-in-law was very ill. When Jesus arrived, He did not bring a bouquet of flowers from Harris Teeter — he brought His love and His power. “He took her by the hand and lifted her up and the fever left her.” (Mark 1: 31) In that brief moment, we see the compassion and the power of the Savior to heal and to restore joy to a family.
The story also raised for me the question about the families of the disciples. The Bible is mostly silent about these amazing people who were very involved in the spreading of the Gospel in the first century church. The Book of Acts tells us about the fellowship that grew quickly in the church. The Bible says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all.”
We also know from the Bible that persecution followed quickly. If you did not see the movie “Paul” when it was in the theater, I highly recommend you see the movie on DVD. There are some intense scenes of persecution of the Believers, so be prepared to caution the children. The point is that the early church growth was a “family commitment.” Peter and the other Apostles went out “to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” to preach the Gospel. They left their families and friends “at home” to take care of the home front while they were on the mission trip. I want to thank “Mrs. Peter” and her mother one day for all they did to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
On a different level, but also very important, is the commitment of the families of our military service members. I would like for this article to remind us about the sacrifices made by the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children and extended family members who have given so much of their lives to keep our nation safe and free. I would also like to ask you to pray for these family members.
My wife, Anne, and I have had a little experience with this separation. When I was a 1st Lieutenant, I went to Thailand; when I was a captain, I went to Vietnam for a year and Sardinia for a year. While I was in Vietnam flying helicopters, Anne was taking care of our one-year-old son and was pregnant with our daughter, who was born before I returned. When I was in Sardinia, Anne raised our three children in San Antonio, Texas. When I was a chaplain, lieutenant colonel, I deployed to Saudi Arabia for seven-and-a-half months for Desert Storm; Anne stayed at home with the teenage children. When I was a chaplain, major general, I made eight two-week trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit the troops. Anne stayed home and took care of her 90-year-old mother who had moved into our home.
As we look back on those times, we realize, like in the Book of Acts, “great grace was upon [us].” Almighty God was watching over us on both sides of the ocean.
Our personal experience does not come close to some of the military families who served before and after us. The Greatest Generation who served in World War II and in Korea went “for the duration.” They were separated for years in the fight to set people free. The present generation of warriors and their families are having to serve over and over again on deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Africa and other places. Some of the Special Operators have been on five, six and seven deployments to the war zone. The women and men in the Navy are making remarkable sacrifices as they “go out to sea” to fight and protect us from those who want to hurt us. And, their families are still paying an enormous price for our freedom.
There are different phases of this “family crisis” in the home of a military family. And, as often as a family goes through them, they are never “normal.”
The notification. Sometimes, you have months to prepare for the deployment; sometimes it is a matter of hours. Some families decide to move the family “back to Grandma’s” for the year. Depending on the school years of the children, some families choose to stay in a place, far away from family, because the “schools are better there.” The families go through the process of preparing wills and making plans regarding “what if …” Please pray for these families.
The deployment. It is almost a relief when the day of departure arrives. And yet, there is always that pain of saying “see you later” to the ones you love. During the deployment, the families must learn to adjust to “being a single parent while still being very married.” Some of us “older soldiers” will remember how hard it was to communicate during our deployments. In Vietnam, it was by letters, with a periodic ham radio call home: “Hello, over. I love you, over. How are the kids, over.” In Desert Storm, we were able to make actual, very expensive, telephone calls home. Now, we have the Internet and other ways to connect almost daily. (This does not necessarily make life easier, but that’s another sermon.) The “soldier” is fully engaged in the mission; the family is trying to live a “normal” life while taking care of car breakdowns, baby sicknesses and teenagers being teenagers. Please pray for these families.
The return. This is usually a wonderful and exciting experience. I shall never forget the “Welcome home” reception we got from the people in Bangor, Maine, when our plane landed for refueling on our return from Desert Storm. Those amazing people greeted every plane with hugs, cookies, balloons and heart-felt “thanks.” (I believe they are still welcoming returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.) Sometimes, at airports across our country, people will stand and cheer the troops as they enter the airport on their way home. If you want to cry a little bit (“have your eyes sweat” for Marines), just Google “soldier returns home from deployment” and watch some amazing homecomings. The rest-of-the-story is sometimes very challenging for the military family. Getting back to a two-parent home can be difficult. Perhaps the goals and the dreams have changed. We call it PTSD. It is debilitating and needs to be addressed. Please pray for these families.
Like many of you, I use a prayer journal to help me be faithful in praying for others. Under a page called, “Deployed Members and Their Families,” my journal says, “Pray that God will quiet their anxieties, calm their fears, carry them through their hardships, increase their faith, give them courage and grant them the assurance of God’s presence, protection and purpose for their lives.”
Ever since Genesis, chapter two, God has raised up families to love and serve Him and each other. I am thankful that the Apostle Peter had a family; I cannot wait to meet them and hear their story. I know every family, not just military families, face tremendous challenges. Just like Jesus did when he met Peter’s mother-in-law, He still wants to heal us and give us the strength to complete the mission.
The next time someone says, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” — get ready. It could be very exciting.
Chaplain Charles C. Baldwin (major general, USAF, retired) is an ordained Southern Baptist minister. He and his wife, Anne, have been married for 48 years and have three married children and ten grandchildren. They are members of the First Baptist Church, Charleston, S.C.