By Cindy Stumme
Sometimes I have a hard time connecting my daily ministry tasks to what God is doing in the lives of the people I serve and work with. Sometimes it feels like a lot of squeezing for a little bit of juice! But this summer, God allowed me to serve in a ministry that helped me draw a very short line between my efforts and God’s results.
In June I had the opportunity to volunteer for four weeks with Operation Heal Our Patriots, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse that reaches wounded warriors and their spouses with the gospel of Jesus Christ. For 16 weeks each summer, Samaritan’s Purse flies 10 couples to its remote Samaritan Lodge in Port Alsworth, Alaska, for a five-day retreat focused on marriage enrichment and spiritual renewal. The staff that serves these couples are seasonal employees and short-term volunteers, working in maintenance, housekeeping, food prep, and food service. I was assigned to serve in the staff kitchen.
Because I had met several of the people connected with OHOP before I flew to Alaska, I had some idea of what to expect as a volunteer: long hours, physical labor, no stores (so bring everything you might need!), and no transportation beyond my own two feet. But what surprised me during my month there was the single-minded focus on sharing Jesus that characterized the staff—from the chaplains who work directly with the wounded warrior couples to the volunteers and staff who provide support.
Daily we exhorted each other to stay strong, because our work would bear tangible, spiritual fruit. And every Friday, as staff and guests gathered around the fire, our work was rewarded as guests gave testimony of their new faith in Christ and their desire to be baptized. What a celebration as we walked down to the lake to witness the new believers enter the water with the chaplains to be baptized! Then we happily returned to our tasks, because we knew our efforts had grown fruit. We had connected the dots between our jobs and God’s moving in the lives of the wounded warriors and their spouses.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Karen Webber, one of the season-long OHOP staff members and the wife of GARBC-endorsed Navy chaplain Tom Webber, and talk about the unique focus and teamwork I experienced at OHOP this summer.
Karen has served at OHOP the last four seasons as a cook in the staff kitchen. Her job is not an easy one. As one of four staff cooks, Karen not only prepares meals six days a week but also plans menus and orders food, which is flown in once a week on Samaritan’s Purse planes. Long hours and hard work don’t discourage Karen. She sticks to her motto: “Be kind and gracious and cook good food.” And good food it is! While I was there, the staff ate shrimp, salmon, steak, watermelon, homemade yogurt, apple pie, and gourmet pizza. I had to ask Karen why the food was so good; it requires substantial effort and expense. She replied, “It’s my goal to serve tasty, nutritious food to allow the staff to serve with strength and joy.”
Even though Karen’s position as a staff cook doesn’t directly impact the wounded warrior couples with the gospel, she knows that great meals renew the spirits of those who are interacting with the guests at OHOP. It’s hard to minister to hurting people when you are feeling empty yourself, and Karen’s food fills the stomach and the heart. It certainly kept me going strong!
It you’re like me, it’s tempting to discount the small contributions you make to a ministry. It’s easier to see a personal impact when you are serving in a leadership position or when you are directly sharing Christ’s love, but this is a misleading viewpoint. Karen and her fellow cooks are solely responsible for the nutritional needs of 40 people, who serve for 16 weeks in a location where they cannot purchase food for themselves. The kitchen volunteers make sure the dishes are clean and sanitary for the next meal. The housekeeping volunteers keep guest and staff areas tidy and hygienic. Fail at these missions, and the staff members who counsel the couples are too sick or tired to be effective. So we all work together, and even the smallest or simplest contributions are connected to the greater mission of sharing the gospel.
Of course, this works only if we know and understand the mission. If the mission ends at good food, clean dishes, germ-free bathrooms, and personal satisfaction in a job well done, our motivation won’t last long. My experience this summer helped me to reevaluate the impact of my ministry tasks on the cause of Christ and to take the long view. At OHOP, there were just a few dots to connect between my tasks and God’s results. At home, there are countless dots, sometimes stretching years into the future, requiring faith in the working of the Holy Spirit.
As a senior spouse in the Army chaplaincy, I find that my role is often like Karen Webber’s at OHOP—demanding, yet far from the action. But I, too, can help other chaplain spouses on the front lines of ministry “serve with strength and joy.” What a lesson to learn! And what a gift to know that God will use all our efforts, large or small. When we faithfully fulfill our roles “as unto the Lord,” we can trust God to connect those dots for us and use our efforts for His glory.
Cindy Stumme is the wife of Ch. (COL) Jack Stumme, an active duty chaplain with the U.S. Army.