By Amy Guckeen Tolson, USAG RedstoneApril 8, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Some members of Club H2O can't even begin to count the number of moves they've made as military children, but through the work of Bicentennial Chapel, they have learned that the one thing they can count on is God.
"Being from a military family, when your mom or dad gets deployed, you need somebody to turn to," said Cody Sumnar, who attends the Protestant youth ministry group. "God can be that person."
Only 4 percent of children born between 1976 and 1994 attend any type of religious activities, whether they be Protestant or Catholic, according to Garrison Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Marvin Luckie, making the chapel's outreach to the youth of the community all the more important in reversing that trend.
"Our youth are important," Luckie said. "It's important to pass our values and our faith in God, and how we serve our community through our churches and our faith. It's important to have these components here at Redstone Arsenal, and that we continue to reach out."
"My vision for the youth is for teenagers to understand their Catholic tradition, to understand what it means to be Catholic," said Chaplain (Maj.) Ray Kopec. "It's important to understand your identity."
The traditional programs designed to help children learn about their faith - Sunday School for Protestant children and CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) for Catholic children - are in place at Bicentennial, but other opportunities to help youth dive even deeper into their faith are also available, including youth groups, small faith sharing groups, a winter retreat, vacation bible school and summer camps, Student Life and SHINE (Serving Him in the Needy and Elderly).
"The importance of faith in the life of a teenager is important because all through life there's going to be times when we're going to suffer," said Darrell Good, youth pastor. "All through life there's going to be times when we're hurt, when we feel let down, sometimes to the point where you're hurting so bad, there's not a good word a friend, a parent or even a youth pastor can say to make you feel better. And that's where faith is important."
The giggles of middle schoolers fill the back patio of the Chapel Youth Annex on Bomford Road on Tuesday nights, a safe haven for teens and pre-teens to be themselves and learn about Christ through the guidance of Good, and his wife Cheryl, at Club H2O, which aims to help young people grow and develop in their path of discipleship, while helping them through the challenges in life. The middle school group meets Tuesday evenings, high school on Thursdays.
"With kids that are going through a lot of stuff in their life, before they can even begin to understand the reality that there really is a God that loves them and cares for them, we've got to be willing to get down there and be with them where they are in their everyday lives and spend time with them," Good said.
Plenty of time for fun and games is allowed, as well as the chance to learn about Jesus, and talk about the difficulties the youth may be facing in their life, such as peer pressure, bad grades and everything else the teens refer to as "drama" - boys, rumors and backstabbing friends.
"There is no drama here," said Erica Bell. "It's drama free. It's been a blessing for me to come here. You can come here and get away from that."
For Bell, 13, an eighth-grader at J.E. Williams Middle School, the drama free zone has been a welcome relief to get away from life's other distractions to focus on Jesus, and her relationship with him. As a military child, she can't exactly recall all the places she's lived, but the Tuesday night youth group has become home, where she can truly be herself. With her family's next move, to Hawaii, looming in the near future, the teenager is sad to leave the youth group, but will carry the lessons she has learned with her.
"This place has been a real eye opener about God, teaching me how he wants me to live my life," Bell said.
While having a place where military youth can turn to in faith is important, a place for the entire family to come together is also paramount, not just for their spiritual lives, but for the family life as well, Luckie said.
"No matter how you cut it, slice it or dice it, it's difficult for families to deploy to war, to come back and have limited time as families, as units, as moms and dads and brothers and sisters," Luckie said. "You have to put forth opportunities for families to be together. It pays great dividends. These opportunities sometimes are few, but when we offer them, they pay wonderful dividends to build and rebuild that connectedness of love and relational values. Being deployed, being separated is hard on families, and that's the bottom line. A community of faith brings that healing, brings that love, rebuilds that trust through prayer, through relationships, through maturity and also the community brings opportunities to come back together and celebrate those moments. We're here to do that."
From the Youth Life Ski Trip, Christmas caroling, a trip to Six Flags and fund-raisers, the chapel's activities have brought together the family of Col. Timothy Wulff - his wife Andrea and children Timber, 16, Annika, 14, Mia, 12, Gabby, 10 and Xander, 7 - allowing them to spend time as a family having fun, while praising Jesus at the same time. Since the family's involvement in the youth programs, Timber and Annika have recommitted their lives to Jesus, choosing to be baptized again because "they wanted their baptisms to be done because they chose to have it done."
"These spiritual programs are miracles in my eyes," Wulff said. "How do you even begin to fathom the importance of such programs that bring our kids to love Jesus Christ for the first time or to grow existing love for Christ exponentially' These programs save lives."
It has been heartwarming for Wulff and his wife Andrea to watch their eldest daughters grow in their faith through both their attendance at youth programs, as well as the changes that have occurred as a result of that involvement, such as applying Bible teachings to everyday life, turning away from material things and choosing WAY-FM, a Christian station, over popular music. As the younger children have seen the impact of faith on their older sisters' lives, they too have begun to grow in their faith, inviting friends to attend youth group and taking turns saying grace at dinnertime.
"Our kids want to go to church and youth group," Wulff said. "Humbles me because I didn't have that zeal as a kid. My kids are teaching me things about the Bible!"
But it isn't just about the Bible stories - the lessons learned have given the Wulff children something to lean on when life gets tough in their roles as military children.
"These programs are extremely valuable to help our children understand that God is in charge even if they cannot control their lives that are constantly in turmoil due to PCS moves and parent deployments," Wulff said. "My kids, although they hate me being gone, understand that God will take care of me and them while we are apart. They teach kids how to cope with everyday issues."