Veteran’s Day, observed November 10 this year, is an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the work that God is doing through Operation Heal Our Patriots, a project focused on military couples whose marriages are struggling because of the wounds of war. This can mean severe physical injuries, but it also means unseen wounds like post-traumatic stress disorder. At Samaritan Lodge Alaska, the goal is to save not just marriages, but lives as well as military couples hear the Gospel and find hope and healing through a relationship with Jesus.
Kristy Graham, host of On the Ground with Samaritan’s Purse, got to talk with Matthew and Dawn Sheppard, a couple whose lives were changed in Alaska this summer at Operation Heal Our Patriots. They shared how God renewed their marriage and how the veteran's suicide rate became more than just a statistic to them when Matthew’s best friend passed away.
Matthew was a vehicle recovery operator in the Marine Corps, and he first deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. During this deployment, he was ejected from his vehicle. Later after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Matthew went the Caribbean to provide security for UNICEF where he witnessed some of the saddest things he had ever seen. Eventually, Matthew served at Motor Vehicle Incidental Driver School where he taught young Marines how to drive military vehicles.
Once getting out of the military, Matthew missed the camaraderie he had with fellow veterans. The couple also wanted to bring God back into their marriage because they were Christians, but they were not pursuing their individual relationships with Christ. Matthew and Dawn started looking for resources to help and they came across Operation Heal Our Patriots.
“And so, I just thought to myself, at this point we have nothing to lose. This is like kind of our last-ditch effort. And so, I applied with the intent that God would bust Matthew's heart wide open with no intention that it would do anything to my own.” —Dawn
Before meeting Matthew, Dawn was unaware of the impacts of trauma and war on military veterans. As the years went by, Matthew heard how numerous people he deployed with committed suicide. This always bothered him, but it didn’t fully hit home until Matthew’s best friend, Boyer, took his own life.
“We knew what [Boyer] was going through, but I never expected that. And after that, it really changed me. I had more thoughts of [suicide] myself.” —Matthew
When the Sheppards arrived in Alaska in the midst of a difficult season, they did not know what to expect out of the week. But they left Operation Heal Our Patriots more thoughtful about their actions, how they speak to one another, and most importantly, with renewed relationships with Christ. Matthew and Dawn could not speak highly enough of the Samaritan Lodge staff and chaplains that loved on them throughout their time in Alaska.
“The amount of love from all these people, genuine love that are from all these different places, but all come together for this one thing. I've never felt so loved in my entire life, and the only person that can do that is God.” —Matthew
With each session, walls were coming down as Matthew and Dawn opened up. The Sheppards remarked on how helpful it was to completely remove distractions, as it allowed them to separate themselves from the daily battles they face at home and focus on each other.
“They hit you right out of the gate with change. I mean, truly right off the bat. The very first night, Pastor Lou brought up traumas that you bring in into your marriage. I mean, the whole week, it's just layer after layer after layer of God just pulling things out.” —Dawn
Upon returning home, Matthew and Dawn were able to implement the tools they learned in Alaska and start fresh. Now, Matthew and Dawn are more open than they have ever been. They enjoy sharing with friends, family, and everyone they meet how the Lord healed their hearts and their marriage through the week at Operation Heal Our Patriots.
Please pray for Matthew, Dawn, and our military veterans as they continue to confront the trauma and hardship they experienced at war. If you’d like to keep up to date with more stories on the ground, please visit SamaritansPurse.org.