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Stand Down Stories 2017: Being Buried vs. Being Planted

There was a theme in this year’s Stand Down stories.  The theme is that sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried. But actually you’ve been planted.  In past e-mail, I told you about some of the new sprouts coming from seeds planted years ago.  This story is about a new planting.

I met a woman from my generation who many years ago was called into her commanding officer’s office to take a letter.  He raped her.  After the rape, she cleaned herself up and replaced her torn panty hose with the spare she kept in her desk.  She told no one.  Now years later, she is suffering the mental health consequences of that rape.  She has made three unsuccessful attempts to get VA services, but she has no way to prove the rape.

Today after a lengthy search of many denominations, she is a Jehovah’s Witness trying to prove the authenticity of her repentance so that she can return to fellowship.  This process can take months or even years.  One of her “serious sins” is her military service.  She is receiving VA housing assistance.  Can you see her predicament?

I listened to her all weekend.  I learned that when her circumstances improve, she becomes suicidally depressed. (Seems counterintuitive but more common than one might expect.)  She seems to be getting to that place again, and I was concerned.  I strongly encouraged her to get help.  At one point, she mentioned that she needed to talk to a woman who understood military sexual trauma.  I know women who met her criteria and started making arrangements.  My mental health resources are not Christians.  I thought that these resources combined with her religious beliefs closed the door to the gospel.  I felt dead and buried.  Later in the day, she told me how much she valued the help I had given her by listening.  She wanted to continue the discussion.  I was shocked!

I prayed overnight for an open door to the gospel.  In the morning, I asked her to tell me more about how she became a Witness.  Eventually, she described the process of restoring her fellowship.  This gave me the opportunity I needed.  I asked her when and how she would know for sure that God accepted her repentance.  She paused for a long time.  Her face changed from pensive to sad.  Eventually, she said she didn’t think she could ever know, that no one could know for sure.  I let that thought sink in and then quietly and gently said, “I know.”  At first the gospel sounded like extraordinarily good news to her.  She had never heard the concept of adoption.  She wanted to know more, but she began to understand that her Father was a person.  Witnesses do not believe God is a trinity and that Jehovah is a force not a person.  These new ideas directly contradicted her religious indoctrination.  She shut down.  I changed the subject.

Before she left Stand down she asked for my number.  I don’t know if she will call or not.  What I do know is that the gospel is not dead and buried.  It was planted.  May the Gardener bring it to life!

Posted by Jackie Vance with

Stand Down 2016

No two Stand Downs are ever alike.  This year was no exception.  Last year’s torrential rain and ankle deep mud were replaced with heat, humidity, blowing dead grass and dirt, and biting insects.  Our great VA and Navy medical teams took care of our allergies and bug bites in between stabilizing patients with much more serious conditions.  Several of us commented that the ambulances never seemed to stop coming and going. 

Although the final numbers have not been published, I suspect they too will be different this year.  Normally a tent holds 25-30 participants and four or five tent leaders.  Many of the men’s tents were only half full.  That is a very good indication that veterans are getting off the street.  On the other hand, Zulu tent was overflowing with nearly 50 women veterans and children.  We had only 20 cots and three tent leaders.  Since no cots were available from the Command tent, I went door to door telling each tent about our plight.  Not only did we get more than enough cots that night, but most of the tent leaders stopped by Zulu tent all weekend to make sure that we did.  This is the kind of loving community that we have at Stand Down.

In spite of Barbara Lasure’s baptism last Sunday, she and Dr. Gwen Taylor found time to come to Stand Down.  Barbara spent time with me in Zulu tent as a VIP visitor, meeting the women veterans and their children, talking about her baptism, and exploring the camp.  Dr. Taylor volunteered in the clothing tent.  More importantly she brought one of her clients to Stand Down.  Her client has for 24 years thought she had been dishonorably discharged.  At Stand Down she received a letter from the VA that proved her honorable discharge, making her eligible for benefits, and replacing years of shame with unspeakable joy.  She also reported that she had been clean and sober for one year.

Miracles happen in the clothing tent.  Last year one of the women veterans of Zulu tent was offered a job at Stand Down.  She had no appropriate clothes to wear to her new job.  The volunteers in the clothing tent put together an entire professional wardrobe for her, including coordinated suits and shirts, shoes, purses, underwear, and jewelry.  Mary Kaye gave her a makeover and a complete supply of makeup chosen just for her.  This year she came back to Stand Down because her teenage daughter was going to her very first job interview on Friday afternoon.  Her daughter left perfectly dressed for that interview.

Housing and court are always in great demand.  Even before the Zulu families were escorted to the tent one mom wanted to get started.  She had two tickets and a conviction she wanted expunged.  As she waited in the court area I noticed her two-year old had no shoes.  I snuck in the back door of the clothing tent before it opened and snagged him the only pair of shoes in his size.  As the legal process dragged on this mom became more and more nervous.  Her highest priority was housing for herself, her husband and their four kids, including her other severely autistic son.  This family of six had been sleeping at God’s Extended Hand and walking the streets during the day.  While she waited for her attorneys, I went to the St. Vincent de Paul tent to find out what time it would open.  It had just opened.  I learned that there was one and only family room available and they would put her first on the list.  Praise the Lord!  

After she finished in court we dropped her two-year old off in the kid’s tent, headed to the tent where she could complete the housing survey needed for permanent housing, and then to the VA tent to sign up for a VASH voucher that would pay 70% of her permanent housing rent.  Needless to say, this was a very long morning, but God does not waste waiting.  He used this time by prompting her to tell me story after story about how badly she had been treated by one church after another.  My heart broke when she said she came to church underdressed because she was wearing the only clothes she owned.  Her humiliation grew when she was asked to come to the front and answer questions about God – questions she could not answer because she did not yet know God.  This was a golden moment to talk about Jesus and his love for common people.  While we waited I got to tell her story after story about Jesus.  She listened intently and asked questions.  I do not know how God will heal these church-inflicted wounds to her heart, but at least she now knows there is a difference between those churches and Jesus.

Posted by Jackie Vance with