The damage done by bullets and bombs can’t be mitigated with toothpaste and textbooks.
But it’s a start.
That’s the approach two faith-based groups are taking to help those directly impacted by years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If they can’t end the agony of war, they can at least try to ease it.
Several times a month, several members of Central Church’s senior adult ministry box up dozens of care packages and send them to those in need overseas.
“The sand gets in everything,” said Jo Ann Harris, senior adults director and grandmother of three.
“Toilet paper is hard to come by over there,” said Alicia Miehe, senior adults administrative assistant and grandmother of five.
Boot-length antimicrobial socks.
“Soldiers go through a lot of socks, and the Army only supplies so many,” said Al Rome, retired Marine and father of one.
Central Church members have been buying and shipping supplies to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005. They started by sending packages to specific soldiers they knew. Then one day, Rome met a chaplain who was headed to a forward operating base in Afghanistan.
“Those are the most dangerous and most miserable places to be,” said Rome, who served in Desert Storm. “They’re homesick, and they’re tired, and they need to know that someone back home cares.”
Central’s supply squad has shipped thousands of boxes over the years. Most of them go directly to chaplains who can distribute them to soldiers most in need.
Harris, Miehe and Rome can pack 20 to 70 pounds of toiletries, socks, snacks, batteries and duct tape inside a foot-square flat-rate U.S. Postal Service box. They always find a way to include a small devotional.
“We want them to know they are not forgotten, they are not alone,” Miehe said. “And that God is with them.”
A few weeks ago, the church got a package from the chaplain assigned to care for Marines and sailors with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion at Patrol Base Alcatraz in a particularly remote and rugged area of Afghanistan.
It included a U.S. flag flown over the base on Sept. 11, 2011, and a thank-you card.
“Thank you for all you have done to support our troops,” wrote the chaplain. “Your giving spirit and unselfish service was an incredible blessing to our battalion.”
The seniors at Central Church are the ones who feel blessed.
“Even though we don’t know them, we feel like we’re sending care packages to our grandchildren,” Harris said.
Several times a month, several members of local congregations share news and gather support for another person in need overseas.
“The I-20 (student visa) has been safely delivered to Mustafa’s hands in Damascus (Praise the Lord!),” Rebekah Rojcewicz, a member of the Memphis Iraqi Student Project, wrote earlier this week. “Now they must somehow get him to Baghdad to the Consulate to obtain the visa.”
“We raised enough so far to pay for his room, board and books at CBU. Now we have to raise about $4,000 more for his transportation and miscellaneous living expenses.”
A day later, Rojcewicz sent another update.
“Mustafa will soon be traveling to Baghdad by bus with several other ISP students to apply for the visa,” she wrote. “The situation in Damascus is worsening by the day. We need to be praying right now for a safe journey to and from Baghdad.”
And from there to Memphis.
Rojcewicz and a dozen other Catholics, Quakers, Lutherans and Muslims have been working for months to bring Mustafa Hmood to Memphis this fall to get a college education.
Hmood, who will turn 20 on Thursday, fled the war in Iraq five years ago with his father, a physician, his mother, a retired music teacher and his little sister. They found refuge in Damascus, the capital of neighboring Syria, now embroiled in civil war.
Mustafa’s family moved back to Iraq. Meanwhile, Mustafa applied to the Syria-based Iraqi Student Project, begun a decade ago by two Americans who wanted to do something to help rebuild Iraq’s education system, which had been destroyed by war.
The ISP has helped 47 Iraqi students enroll in 35 U.S. colleges. Eight more are scheduled to enroll this fall, including Mustafa, who completed school in Syria. He has been accepted to Christian Brothers University, which has waived his tuition.
“My biggest dream is to return to my country with a high academic degree that can benefit my society; in addition, I want to carry out a monumental achievement for humanity,” Mustafa recently wrote to his Memphis support group.
“I advocate the separation of religion and state and for that reason I am inclined to secularity in Iraq because I don’t think that belief is enough reason for special treatment; besides, people must be treated as individuals not as members of a group.”
Not as a Muslim or as an Iraqi refugee, but as Mustafa.
“It’s kind of like sending your own child to college, except he’s coming here,” said Blake Burr, a member of the Memphis Iraqi Student Project.