Friday, December 23, 2011

LTSP Alumnus Steve Jensen finds a Wounded Warriors ministry in retirement

It began in February with a request from a former officer in charge of a Wounded Warriors ministry in Hawaii. Would retired U.S. Navy Chaplain Steve Jensen, an alumnus of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), provide pastoral counseling to a couple having a particularly difficult time with the husbands IED wounds, traumatic brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and coping with a dozen or more medications?
"There was no funding for a chaplains position, Jensen explains. However, I quickly was embraced by the patients and families I met hungry for someone to help them deal with the spiritual issues you might expect: Why was God AWOL when I was injured and my friends killed? Why did the best of us die and I was kept alive? Is there a purpose for me to be here?
"I spend a great deal of time encouraging them (Wounded Warriors) to work on their medical, mind, body, spirit, relationship issues, but also building trust," Jensen explains. "They come to my home regularly for a cookout and discussion, finding it a safe place where people don't ask probing or uncomfortable questions. There aren't large crowds, and no loud noises startle them.
"Since I didn't have access to any funds to help with emergent needs, the Lutheran Church of Honolulu (LCH) established a discretionary account, and with local support I was able to create Friends of Windward Wounded Warriors," Jensen continues. Local church conference lay members help as mentors, he notes, provide intern positions at their businesses, host monthly barbecue meals at the barracks, invite individuals and small groups to sail, fish, and play golf, sponsor family days at places like Wet 'N Wild, and more. 
"In turn, the Wounded Warriors enjoy giving back to the community by painting out graffiti or doing beach clean-ups, bringing their service dogs to encourage children to read or allow homeless kids in a local program to pet them," Jensen continues. "They send notes and Christmas gifts to Silver Springs-Martin Luther School [located near LTSP in Plymouth Meeting, PA], assist with Special Olympics or Veteran Paralympic games; and much more. Friends, churches and strangers contribute to the fund so Jensen can buy new baby items, provide work clothes for internships, sponsor a date night for two couples a month, celebrate birthdays with cake and ice cream, and the like," Jensen says.
I take about a dozen with the most severe PTSD each quarter for a retreat to a neighbor island, Jensen explains. "The United Service Organization and Armed Services YMCA help underwrite the costs of lodging and transportation, while Lihue Lutheran [Church, Kawai] for example, uses their contact or funds to provide recreational activities and meals. LCH provides free tickets to church/symphony concerts and St. John [Lutheran Church, Kailua] cooks at barbecues and provides secretarial support for me. Prince of Peace [Lutheran Church, Waikiki] is paying for the Thanksgiving meal at my home. Other churches have gathered materials for care packages to the units from which these Marines and Sailors came, still fighting in Afghanistan. And on it goes.
"Because I am also greatly concerned about what happens to them after they are discharged, I am now a member of the Veterans Administration's Institutional Review Board, at which we scrutinize all new programs and services being developed for veterans and their families," Jensen says. "I have agreed to be a Navy League board member beginning in January so I can further develop contacts and resources for the detachment. The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) has invited me to join as well so I can advocate for donations of materials and jobs for Wounded Warriors. I'm promised four refurbished computers and printers soon, for example, so patients can do their college homework and check e-mail in the lounge. I regularly speak at churches, Rotary clubs, military organizations, yacht clubs, and so on to get out the story and invite people to think about how they personally can get involved."
Slowing down in retirement? Whats that? As Jensen puts it, "It seems I have been given a second chance at ministry for which all other military and civilian experience and training has equipped me. I don't want to squander a day of this opportunity, so I go at it all ahead full. As a friend says, I want to be all used up when my time comes, and I can't think of a better way to expend myself in service to others."

Photo caption: LTSP Alumnus and retired US Navy Chaplain Steve Jensen enjoys a visit in Hawaii with First Lady Michelle Obama, who was on hand to encourage Wounded Warriors in Hawaii that Jensen ministers to as a volunteer chaplain.

Written by seminary writer Mark Staples, photo courtesy Steve Jensen.

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