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Photo courtesy of Northwoods United Methodist Church.

Parents and children share food and conversation during the monthly Deployed Military Spouses' Dinner at Northwoods United Methodist Church.

Photo courtesy of Northwoods United Methodist Church

Children have their own time to share concerns about their absent parents.

Photo courtesy of Northwoods United Methodist Church.

A menu featuring Mexican food meant lots of chopping prior to the Deployed Spouses' Dinner. Attendance is growing each month.

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Military families support one another

 

Christine Kumar
November-December 2016

It Worked for Us

Conversation and laughter filled the air as more than 110 military spouses gathered at the tables with their children and shared stories while passing the potatoes. The setting was the monthly Deployed Spouses Dinner at Northwoods United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

"We are dealing with our spouses being deployed and how we are coping with this," said Alyson Schumacher, a social worker and member of Northwoods Church. The church hosts the dinner on the second Monday of every month. Parents can bring their children at 5 p.m. for playtime. After dinner, the youngsters do crafts while their moms and dads engage in conversations.

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"This provides a safe place for us to be connected," Schumacher said. "We talk about how we are managing parenting by ourselves, challenges we face as our spouses are overseas, and what strategies are used to overcome challenges. It's not a walk in the park." She recalled nights when she cried holding her three-year-old in her arms. Knowing others experiencing a similar situation gave her courage and encouragement.

The idea to have dinner with the spouses whose husbands and wives were deployed began six years ago when Schumacher and several other women were in a Bible study at Northwoods. One of attendees invited the group for dinner. As the women talked over the meal, they realized that they wanted to get together every month.

Schumacher said the dinner gatherings are a way to support one another and validate whatever they are feeling as their spouses are away. "It works," said the Rev. Jerry Lewis, pastor at Northwoods. "These are God-inspired moments that have a ripple effect."

Lewis, who served as a U.S. Air Force chaplain for 30 years, said the church is central to the military bases in Jacksonville. Many who worship at Northwoods are military families.

As attendance at the dinner each month grows, securing volunteers and food can be challenging. The church is seeking grants and other means to sustain the ministry. Most of all, they are trusting God for the resources.

"No one is selling you anything," Schumacher said. "Everyone is welcome, because you have to have community and community is my church where I can ground myself.

"My faith has made me stronger."

AT A GLANCE Northwoods United Methodist Church | 1528 Gum Branch Road, Jacksonville, NC 28540 | 910-346-9727 | contact@northwoodsumc.org | northwoodsumc.org | Rev. Jerry D. Lewis | Average attendance: 211 | North Carolina Conference

Christine Kumar is a freelance writer and administrator for the Baltimore-Metropolitan District of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Send ideas for It Worked for Us stories to interpreter@umcom.org.