Consider these ways you might minister to the military in your midst during the holidays. In the USA, approximately 2 million service members work in active duty, guard, or reserve positions, with about 900,000 spouses. Including children, that is well over 3 million Americans who would appreciate your expression of care. Extending love and care to the service members and their families can be a tangible illustration of the gospel. Christmas and Thanksgiving can be hard on the armed forces since they are new to the community, have a family member gone, or cannot be near family. These situations can steal some of the season's joy for those serving in the military and their families.
First, ask neighbors and friends if you have military families living in your vicinity. If you don’t know of any armed forces families, consider reaching out to nearby installations and speaking to installation chaplains about the presence of the service members in your area. There are often guard or reserve units that you might not be aware of. Ask chaplains for specific needs of the military in your area. Here are tangible ways to minister to the military and their families during the holidays:
1) For military members or families:
a. Since service member families often don’t live near extended family and cannot always get permission to travel home, invite military families to join you for special holiday events. Celebrating as a single-family unit might highlight their distance from loved ones. Help them see they are part of a loving community with the body of Christ! Some suggestions for activities to do with service members or families include inviting them to:
i. Attend a Christmas Eve service.
ii. Share a Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s meal.
iii. Bake Christmas cookies.
iv. Attend a local Christmas event.
v. Join you for Christmas caroling in your neighborhood.
vi. Watch a Christmas movie.
vii. Decorate gingerbread houses.
viii. Drive around and gaze at Christmas lights.
ix. Attend a Christmas cookie swap.
x. Babysit their kids for a couple of hours while they Christmas shop.
xi. Join you for Christmas shopping.
xii. View New Year’s Eve fireworks.
b. Single military members don’t want to spend the holidays alone in the barracks or their apartment. Consider inviting them over to enjoy Christmas with your family. They might even want to spend Christmas Eve with your family and enjoy the opening of presents on Christmas morning with your family. Consider inviting them to the special holiday events listed above.
c. Consider adopting the armed forces member and/or spouse and committing to pray over them. Lead your family in regularly praying for this military member and any family. I created a resource that anyone can use to help guide you in praying for the military. Even if you don’t have an armed forces family member, you probably have a neighbor or acquaintance who is currently serving or who has served. Praying God’s Word is powerful, and each of these 25 prayers was crafted using Scripture. Consider gathering folks in your neighborhood to pray for service members around the holidays to give them the gift of prayer. To access the free prayer guide, go to https://bethrunkle.com/25waystoprayforthemilitary.
d. Give the gift of connection. Military members and their spouses need a date night. Marriage is hard, but add in frequent separations, combat trauma, deployments, and moves, and you have a recipe for possible isolation between the couple. Offer to watch their children so they can get some quality time to connect. Better still, consider offering to watch their kids overnight to reconnect as a couple.
2) For military spouses of a deployed armed forces member:
a. Invite the family left at home to join your holiday activities (see list above)– the loneliness will be much more vivid on special days. Don’t assume someone else is contacting them; please take the initiative.
b. Offer to help hang or take down the Christmas tree or other decorations and/or lights. Often, with a deployed spouse, these components of the holidays might get neglected and add to their disappointment and isolation. You can also offer to wrap or assemble Christmas gifts since they juggle parenting solo.
c. The spouse left at home probably needs a hug – offer it!
d. The adult on the home front needs meaningful face-to-face adult conversation. Just call to say hello and ask how they are doing. Stop by and let them know you are thinking of them. Help ensure the spouse left at home doesn’t feel forgotten.
e. Surprise them with a care package for something he or she can do to pamper themselves.
3) For the deployed military member:
a. Send them a care package. If possible, find out their favorite goodies and pack the box with them. Homemade baked goods are especially desired, as well as an encouraging note or card. We had our kids create handmade cards each year that we sent to deployed troops, along with baked snacks, magazines, and books.
b. Commit to praying specifically over them and send them a note telling them you are praying for them.
c. Gather or make handmade Christmas cards for several folks and mail them to them.
d. If you know military members who are deployed, send them an extra copy of your Christmas card so that they get to enjoy your holiday update in addition to the family back at home.
e. Send them notes and cards in the mail.