The lives of members of the military and their families are extraordinarily difficult. More than two million military youth have experienced a parental deployment since 2001. There are currently 1.2 million military children of active-duty military members worldwide. Most military families will move up to three times more than their civilian counterparts. The continual separations between parents and children, the constant upheaval of their lives, and the increased hazards of deployment create high anxiety in many military children’s lives.
Youth For Christ Military, the military outreach branch of Youth For Christ (YFC), is designed to be a place for young people connected to the military to feel like they belong. YFC Military works to uncover God’s story of hope in the next generation of military-connected young people. This is done by partnering with local chaplains, churches, schools and other like-minded organizations. YFC wants to reach these youth through unconditional, authentic Christ-sharing relationships.
How Christ Fits into the Military Lifestyle
Brian Hershey is the Greater Omaha YFC Campus Life Military Director. Hershey has been involved with YFC Military for 20 years. He is a firm believer in the importance of reaching military-impacted youth. Hershey has seen firsthand the results of powerful, Christ-centered relationships in the lives of teens struggling with their military lifestyle.
“I started my work overseas right after 9/11, which was a very interesting time to be travelling internationally,” Hershey said. “This led to my first interactions with military kids. I learned that they live in an entirely different culture than anything I’d seen before. They have different currency, different customs, and different resources to anything their civilian counterparts can understand. This can be incredibly isolating for them. It has become my mission to build a sense of resiliency and a robust faith into these kids.
“I think people wonder why it’s so important to reach a demographic that is only 1% of our nation. What YFC Military does is so important. We are reaching the 1% of our country that’s serving and protecting the freedoms of the other 99%. It’s vital that we have a dedicated ministry for those families and youth. This is because they are giving up so much and enduring so much stress.”
Rising over the Challenges
Hershey continued, “For example, I met one boy named Aaron. Both of his parents served in active duty. This could mean at least one — and sometimes both — of his parents would be deployed at any given time. They would be deployed around the world at a moments notice. Aaron would be left with either just one parent or with his grandparents if both of his parents were deployed. I think by the time I met Aaron as a junior in high school, he had already moved eight different times. He was scheduled to move again by the end of the year. He was going into a school where he didn’t know anyone, he didn’t know the customs, and he was alone.
“This is just a glimpse into what so many of these teens face in the military life. Military kids slide into a community for a short season. Shortly after, they move out and nobody even recognizes that they’ve come or gone. They have a unique set of life experiences that can make it hard for them to feel known and understood.”
Hershey said, “I believe every person has this deep, insatiable longing to be known and understood by somebody in their life. That is why it’s so important that we come alongside military-impacted youth and help them find a way to rise over the challenges of military life. Providing a space for military kids to come together and relate to each other is invaluable. It reassures the youth that they are not alone in their situations. To them, they see other kids and adults who understand exactly what they’re going through. If we fail to give them those spaces, the effects can be truly devastating.”
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