By Annette Brill Bergstresser
Tuesday, June 7, 2016

​ELKHART, Indiana (Mennonite Church USA/Mennonite Mission Network) — A six-week Sunday school curriculum — Returning Veterans, Returning Hope: Seeking Peace Together — can help small groups and congregations who want to explore how the church can play a part in the healing journeys of returning veterans. The materials draw on biblical reflection, the latest understandings of trauma and moral injury, and the experiences of veterans themselves.

"We have long known that war affects not only innocent civilians, but also those we ask to fight," said Carolyn Holderread Heggen, trauma psychotherapist and creator of the "Transforming the Wounds of War" program at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. "Growing numbers of Mennonites are convinced that an appropriate and urgent peacemaking focus and healing ministry is addressing the profound physical, emotional and spiritual wounds of returning veterans and their families."

The authors of the curriculum, Jason Boone and Titus Peachey, noticed this interest across the church as well. Boone serves as coordinating minister of the Peace and Justice Support Network (PJSN, a ministry of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Mission Network), and Peachey is now retired from his role as coordinator for Peace Education for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S.

"As we talked with folks, we saw that they had knowledge and desire, but didn't know how to dig deeper [in responding to veterans' needs]," Boone said. "The next step would be to go to Eastern Mennonite University for STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience) training, which is a great training, but is prohibitive for some people for various reasons. We wanted to create something congregations could dig into and wrestle with where they were — to give them permission to have relationships with veterans and to learn about what they're facing."

Boone credits EMU's STAR training with having given him and Peachey a foundation from which to create the curriculum. They designed the lessons to help congregations think both theologically and practically about healing from the trauma of war and learning the meaning of Jesus' way of peace — assuming that peace churches and military veterans could benefit by walking this path together. As Boone and Peachey wrote the materials, they tested them with people across the church, including Heggen and Evan Knappenberger, an Iraq War veteran and EMU student.

Congregations engage

The curriculum has been available for about two years. Since it can be downloaded for free, Boone doesn't know how many groups have used it, but he says the anecdotes they've heard have been positive.

"One unexpected result was that we realized we have a lot more veterans in our churches than we knew about," he reflected. "The curriculum has given the veterans we already have among us permission and a much-needed space to talk about their experiences. Some have said, 'I didn't know I could bring this up at all [in a Mennonite church].'"

An elective Sunday school class at Albany (Oregon) Mennonite Church (AMC) studied the Returning Veterans curriculum in January and February; Heggen and Ray Kauffman co-taught the series. According to Kauffman, attendance was generally between 18 and 24 people.

"Nearly everyone agreed that this was a very informative and helpful series of lessons," Kauffman reflected. "I'm sure we are all more aware of veterans and their needs, and also their viewpoints."

He noted that the congregation has seven veterans, three of whom attended some or all of the Sunday sessions.

"The trauma lessons were painful, but we were blessed with having Carolyn [Heggen] teach them," Kauffman said, adding that Heggen drew from various sources to explain the many facets of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other war-related ailments. 

"It's our hope that AMC will be more open to veterans and their needs, as well as listening to what they have to teach us," Kauffman said. "After serving in combat, many vets agree that war is contrary to the will of God and must be avoided. But I think it will be hard to measure the long-term effects of this class on the life of AMC. May it be leaven in our community and witness."

John Kreider, a retired minister and member of Huntington Mennonite Church in Newport News, Virginia, expressed gratitude for the curriculum, which he studied as part of a group that included veterans, relatives of veterans and people with no military connections.

"Everyone contributed freely and listened respectfully and with great interest," he said. "Even though there was a biblical setting for each study period, most of our time together was spent in telling and listening to personal stories."

At least one youth group has used the curriculum — the junior high youth of First Mennonite Church (FMC) of Denver.

"I was fascinated by the fact that not all vets think about the devastation of war," reflected Ellie Knowles, one of the youth in the class.

Hopes for the future

Boone said he hopes congregations will embrace the curriculum and intentionally work at connecting with veterans of the U.S. armed forces, of which there were 21.8 million in 2014, according to the Census Bureau.

"We can't equip ourselves and just say, 'Maybe a veteran will come [to church] and we'll be nice to them,'" he said. "We want congregations to proactively find ways to create relationships with people in their communities."

Sponsors of the curriculum are the PJSN and MCC U.S. A congregational training on relating to veterans is also available.

See pjsn.org/vets.

 

*This originally appeared at http://mennoniteusa.org/news/curriculum-equips-congregations-for-compassionate-response-to-veterans/.

 

 

 Related articles

 

 

Peer mediators gain self-esteem while working for community peacePeace camphttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5062/Peer-mediators-gain-self-esteem-while-working-for-community-peacePeer mediators gain self-esteem while working for community peaceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Cape Town
Lois Buckwalter discerned a new way of doing mission among the Toba-Qom peopleObituaryhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5059/Lois-Buckwalter-discerned-a-new-way-of-doing-mission-among-the-Toba-Qom-peopleLois Buckwalter discerned a new way of doing mission among the Toba-Qom peopleGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Strengthening bonds: A gathering for Anabaptist theological educationTheological consultationhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5049/gathering-for-Anabaptist-theological-educationStrengthening bonds: A gathering for Anabaptist theological educationGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Mexico City
Dreams of the boy become mission of the manRetirementhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5048/Dreams-of-the-boyDreams of the boy become mission of the manGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Movement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology from Latin America commemorates 20 years of ministry with publicationMissio Deihttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5045/Women-Doing-Theology-from-Latin-AmericaMovement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology from Latin America commemorates 20 years of ministry with publicationGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Mennonite medical ministry changing in Taiwan even as Christ’s love remains the sameNewshttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5040/Mennonite-medical-ministry-changing-in-TaiwanMennonite medical ministry changing in Taiwan even as Christ’s love remains the sameGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Benin Bible Institute renews a 20-year partnership with Indiana congregationBenin Bible Institutehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5038/Benin-Bible-Institute-renews-a-20-year-partnership-with-Indiana-congregationBenin Bible Institute renews a 20-year partnership with Indiana congregationGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Cotonou
A family’s two-way mission unites them in Christ with brothers and sisters in EcuadorCallinghttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5036/A-family-two-way-mission-unites-them-in-Christ-with-brothers-and-sisters-in-EcuadorA family’s two-way mission unites them in Christ with brothers and sisters in EcuadorGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Murid-Mennonite encounter in France focused on peacePeacebuildinghttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5035/Murid-Mennonite-encounter-in-France-focused-on-peaceMurid-Mennonite encounter in France focused on peaceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Paris
Resilience helps mission worker navigate detoursInternationalhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5033/Resilience-helps-mission-worker-navigate-detoursResilience helps mission worker navigate detoursGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Bammental
An architecture of care in CalaisRefugeeshttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5030/An-architecture-of-care-in-CalaisAn architecture of care in CalaisGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Calais
Marisa Smucker accepts executive director positionPress Releasehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5028/Marisa-Smucker-accepts-executive-director-positionMarisa Smucker accepts executive director positionGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Indiana
Zoom information nightsZoom meetinghttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5022/Zoom-information-nightsZoom information nightsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Urgent prayer request for EcuadorNewshttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5025/Urgent-prayer-request-for-EcuadorUrgent prayer request for EcuadorGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Quito
Love provides a refuge for Christmas and throughout the yearSharing Adventhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5024/Love-provides-a-refuge-for-Christmas-and-throughout-the-yearLove provides a refuge for Christmas and throughout the yearGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Calais

 

 

 Related

 

 

Peer mediators gain self-esteem while working for community peacehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5062/Peer-mediators-gain-self-esteem-while-working-for-community-peacePeer mediators gain self-esteem while working for community peace
Lois Buckwalter discerned a new way of doing mission among the Toba-Qom peoplehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5059/Lois-Buckwalter-discerned-a-new-way-of-doing-mission-among-the-Toba-Qom-peopleLois Buckwalter discerned a new way of doing mission among the Toba-Qom people
Strengthening bonds: A gathering for Anabaptist theological educationhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5049/gathering-for-Anabaptist-theological-educationStrengthening bonds: A gathering for Anabaptist theological education
Dreams of the boy become mission of the manhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5048/Dreams-of-the-boyDreams of the boy become mission of the man
Movement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology from Latin America commemorates 20 years of ministry with publicationhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5045/Women-Doing-Theology-from-Latin-AmericaMovement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology from Latin America commemorates 20 years of ministry with publication
Mennonite medical ministry changing in Taiwan even as Christ’s love remains the samehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5040/Mennonite-medical-ministry-changing-in-TaiwanMennonite medical ministry changing in Taiwan even as Christ’s love remains the same



 

 

Here with purpose: Tim Yoderhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/blog/5065/Here-with-purpose-Tim-YoderHere with purpose: Tim YoderQ&A
Living in communityhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/video/5058/Living-in-communityLiving in communityService Adventure
Peer mediators gain self-esteem while working for community peacehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/5062/Peer-mediators-gain-self-esteem-while-working-for-community-peacePeer mediators gain self-esteem while working for community peacePeace camp
Mennonite mission worker continues to nurture friendships with Shia Muslims in Iranhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/blog/5064/Mennonite-mission-works-continues-to-nurture-friendships-with-Shia-Muslims-in-Iran-Mennonite mission worker continues to nurture friendships with Shia Muslims in IranInterfaith discussion
Easter calls us to open the doors of our homes and our heartshttps://www.mennonitemission.net/blog/5061/Easter-calls-us-to-open-the-doors-of-our-homes-and-our-heartsEaster calls us to open the doors of our homes and our heartsEaster
Youth Venture to South Koreahttps://www.mennonitemission.net/video/5060/Youth-Venture-South-KoreaYouth Venture to South KoreaApply now!