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Monday, May 30, 2016

Lessons from War (Stories)

Today America recognizes Memorial Day. It’s odd and a bit inappropriate to say we “celebrate Memorial Day” as we pay tribute to the valiant men and women who sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedoms.

Recently, I spoke with Jocelyn Green ( about the book she helped cowrite, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front. It’s a collection of historical pieces that adds texture to the word “sacrifice.” I share with you today some of Jocelyn’s thoughts.

Mark: How did you and Karen Whiting connect to work together on Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front?

Jocelyn: AMG Publishers approached Karen about writing a book for them in this series, and she knew she wanted to focus on the home front throughout the wars, rather than a particular war. She also knew she didn’t want to write it alone. She and I were (and still are) in a couple of author networks together, and we are both former military wives, and I had already coauthored Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan. So when she asked if I wanted to partner with her on this project, I jumped at the opportunity.

Mark: The tragedy of war is inescapable. But in the midst of this tragedy, there is beauty. It is the beauty of character demonstrated during crisis. How, then, do we put these wars in perspective?

Jocelyn: That’s a really big question. An entire sermon series could be preached in response. But I’ll just say this. I have written or cowritten five nonfiction books and two devotional Bibles for the military, and four Civil War novels. I have spent years researching wars, and the people who have been most affected by them. I’ve read countless first-person accounts from Civil War hospitals, for example, and personally interviewed today’s soldiers, veterans, wounded warriors, and Blue Star and Gold Star family members. This is what I’ve seen: that no matter how dark war can be, God’s light shines brighter. Men and women from centuries ago right up until today have proven to me, over and over, that Jesus is bigger than our pain. Hope does not disappoint. The only reason I can spend so much time immersing myself in these stories of war is that I share this same confidence: for the believer, there is always hope. Hope, faith, and courage even in the midst of war is a far greater testimony than faith and hope when there is no strife, no struggle. My own faith has been challenged by reading and hearing the testimonies of others.

Mark: Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who have given their lives for our nation. The Sullivan family in WW2 gave an exceptional sacrifice. What is their story?

Jocelyn: Yes, they did. The five brothers in the Sullivan family from my hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, enlisted in the Navy on one condition: that they’d be allowed to serve on the same ship. Their request was granted, and they served on the USS Juneau. Tragically, all five brothers died when a torpedo sank their ship in the South Pacific in November, 1942. I can’t wrap my mind around that kind of loss for their surviving family members. Their sister joined the Navy WAVES, and their parents spoke to more than a million workers in war-time production plants, urging them to maximize production and end the war sooner.

I love what their sister Genevieve told a reporter: “People ask me and Mother and Father too, ‘How do you manage to keep your chins up and keep going?’ We just do. There’s a job to be done, a big one that means the lives of many. So we must keep working hard.”

Mark: What other example(s) of bravery captivated you in seeing soldiers give up their lives?

Jocelyn: Every story is captivating, but one that stands out in particular is that of SPC James Kiehl. When his parents learned he’d been killed, they didn’t know where he was spending eternity. But before the funeral took place, they learned from a reporter embedded in his unit that ten days before his death, he gave his life to Christ. He wanted to be baptized, but due to a shortage of water in the desert, they had to improvise. Soldiers dug a pit in the sand, lined it with plastic, and donated their own rationed bottles of drinking water to fill it. Right there in the middle of the Muslim world, SPC Kiehl and another soldier were baptized.

Mark: What should be our takeaway about the nature of war?

Jocelyn: I think the takeaway is that war, by nature, is not a Godless place. God can meet you in war as well as, or better than, He can meet you in a stadium full of ten thousand worshippers in the States.

Mark: Did the weight of these burdens carried by many during our wars impact your personal views about these engagements?

Jocelyn: I learned a lot more about the positive things our men and women have done during these engagements, stories that don’t normally circulate in the media. But my views on foreign policy didn’t crystalize because of it. My heart was affected in a much more personal way, thinking about how all these people have done their best to serve their country, and how the families at home have served in critical ways, too. For most of us in America, we have the luxury of choosing which news to pay attention to, and we can ignore the fact that Americans are in harm’s way even now. But the family members are living this reality every day, sometimes moment by moment. They deserve our prayers and support throughout the year.

Jesus the Messiah once said, “The greatest love a person can show is to die for his friends.” (John 15:13, NCV) Thousands of American servicemen and women have given their lives not only for friends and loved ones, but for unknowns.

We pay tribute to that highest form of sacrifice on this Memorial Day.

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