As we navigate rapidly evolving military culture and hone on the next best step forward, faith can be a foundation we rest upon. This reliance certainly isn't something new.
When George Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775, chaplains were right there in the mix of serving warriors during the Revolutionary War, though at a much smaller number initially. By the time we entered into the Civil War, ministry grew.
World War I saw 2,300 Army Chaplains volunteer to serve. It was during this time Congress realized they needed to act, requiring a more centralized approach to the growing Chaplain Corps. By 1920, the National Defense Authorization Act authorized a Chief of Chaplains and created the structure we see today. Though more than 100 religions were followed among soldiers and sailors, Roman Catholic and Protestant made up around 85% of the total number.
Since we saw the space for faith within our military open during our very first days as a young country, over 400 chaplains have given their lives to this nation with seven receiving the Medal of Honor.
In the last 50 years, the face of the American military has changed. Long gone are the days where the service expected its members to be single; now, it's a family affair. And just like the chaplains are a light in the dark for service members, holding steadfast to faith has a remarkable impact on their families. And they're hurting.
WATM sat down with author Jessica Manfre to discuss her new book, "Never Alone" about faith as a military spouse and the work she and fellow milspouse, Megan Brown, are doing.
WATM: Tell us your why. Why this book, why now?
Manfre: One day, I was reading the book of Ruth and had an epiphany: Ruth is the story of every military spouse.
In the book of Ruth, we witness a woman’s brave journey—one of loss, loneliness, and loyalty. A story of love and faith. Does that sound familiar? These are the hallmarks of the military life. While our lives are fraught with heartache and sacrifice, that isn’t the whole of our stories. Ruth is a hero who has gone before us, offering encouragement and strength. Through her, we witness the beauty of hope and share in the healing power of friendship. We discover that even when all seems lost and completely hopeless, we are Never Alone. God is always with us. And He’s leading us through our own story of redemption. He’s restoring the hardships and healing the wounds of despair. He’s transforming our pain and building our trust. Even when we’re wandering in a faraway, foreign land, He is not lost and has not lost us.
I've been a military spouse for 15 years at this point and I can speak with authority in stating we are lonely. The frequent moves, frequent deployments and 20 years of war have taken their toll. Though there are many big thinkers working on solutions and programming to stand in the gap for this, I believe reinforcing faith as an anchor has been overlooked. It's why myself and Megan Brown (also a military spouse) have championed a faith-based literary line written for and by the Christian military community through Moody Publishers.
WATM: What can readers expect from "Never Alone"?
Manfre: Never Alone, walks readers through my experiences and the clinical implications of understanding loneliness (I am a therapist). I bring readers through the book of Ruth, from the Old Testament of the Bible.
We don't pretend to have all the answers or be Biblical experts but just simply a way forward. The increased number of military spouse suicides, decreased mental health satisfaction and overall well-being of our families is suffering. We believe bringing people back to faith is part of the solution.
WATM: Tell us about Megan's book.
Manfre: Megan's book, Know What You Signed Up For, focuses on how to live on mission, follow Jesus and love people in this life. We always hear, "You knew what you signed up for!" but as Megan says, 'Honestly, no.' She fell in love with a military man and had dreams of adventure. Megan's book is a field guide for spouses who also didn't know what they signed up for, in realizing we are right where we are supposed to be—chosen for this specific time and place. In her book, she'll help find life in our roles as military spouses, mothers—or spiritual mothers. Megan really helps people see what it means to follow Jesus, love people, and live on mission.
WATM: What is your hope for your readers?
Manfre: Let's get back to talking about all the things instead of avoiding the topics considered taboo or hard. Bring back real conversations, with no question left unasked. It's only by unburdening our hearts of its worries that true healing and growth can begin. And regardless of what or who you believe in, we see you. Come hang out with us, there's always space at our table.