The Work Goes On
A Wonderful Life (As a Chaplain's Wife)
By Brenda Steedley
MILITARY: A calling to a soldier and his wife
As a teenager, I dreamed about marrying a preacher or a soldier. I never imagined marrying a man who would become both. I grew up in a Christian home, and my family was very patriotic. I had two older brothers who served in the military, one in the Army and one in the Air Force. Looking back, I believe the love of God and country and the value of Christian service influenced my early thoughts about marriage.
“I’m married to my hero.” Those words on a patriotic plaque caught my eye as I browsed in a gift shop this past Memorial Day. The words rang true to my heart. What an incredible journey began June 7, 1970! That was the day Kerry Steedley and I married at my home church, Double Branch FWB Church in middle Georgia. This year, we celebrated 47 years of partnership in marriage and ministry. (Actually, our journey together began October 17, 1968, on our first date at Welch College.) For 34 of those 47 years, I lived the life of an Army wife. We are now blessed to continue in military ministry as volunteers in military chaplain support for FWB North American Ministries, under the leadership of Dr. David Crowe. I especially enjoy getting to know our FWB chaplain wives and trying to encourage them.
My life as an Army wife began in 1971, when Kerry enlisted as an active-duty soldier for three years. One of those years he was in Vietnam, while I took our infant son Kevin and lived with my parents. We then lived at Fort Stewart, Georgia, until Kerry completed his enlistment and was honorably discharged, one month after our daughter Tracy was born.
Then I became a Free Will Baptist pastor’s wife. Kerry served in the National Guard for one year and in the U.S. Army Reserve for two years during those five years of pastoring. With only a brief break after his seminary graduation, my role as the wife of a FWB Army chaplain began and continued for 28 years, until Kerry retired in July 2006. It’s a life I look back on with love and thankfulness.
MARRIAGE: A covenant and commitment
I am so grateful for God’s all-sufficient grace during those years. The military is a mobile lifestyle, with frequent moves for the family, some stateside and others overseas. There are numerous deployments for the soldier when the spouse temporarily becomes a single parent. Whether the soldier is away in combat or simply training, the deployment adds stress on the family. These separations are challenges, but they are also opportunities for the chaplain’s wife to provide a ministry of encouragement to those left behind. I am personally thankful that the military community has a sense of family with a strong commitment to family support. The stress of military service can contribute to either making or breaking a marriage. Thankfully, ours was made stronger, and we were able to minister to others.
MINISTRY: A calling, not just a career
I saw my primary role as a chaplain’s wife in supporting my husband’s ministry. However, I discovered ample opportunities for my own ministry. The chaplain’s wife is a member of the command and staff wives organization. Daily, she can be light and salt as a Christian by attending social functions, change of command ceremonies, memorial services, and funerals. Weekly, she can serve as a Bible study leader and teacher for the women of the chapel and volunteer in Sunday School. She can sing in the chapel choir and work in Vacation Bible School. She is, after all, a pastor’s wife. Her husband just happens to wear a uniform. They worship and serve in a place called a chapel, not a church.
For us, the military was more than a career; it was a calling. We were so blessed to serve our nation’s soldiers and their families, to walk, live, and serve among these heroes. We were especially blessed to see lives changed by the power of the gospel. The military was our mission field. Serving God and country was our mission.
MEMORIES: A collection of people and places
I remember all our homes, some on post in government quarters and others off-post in the civilian community. Some proved especially challenging to turn into a home. I particularly remember one in Germany and one in Hawaii. To paraphrase a quote I saw on a Hallmark card, “Home is not a location; it’s a person.” I was often reminded in our moves that a house becomes a home when you live there with the people you love—in my case, my husband and our children.
I remember the sadness of leaving family and friends that soon turned into joy as God brought new friends into our lives. Some acquaintances have become life-long friends. I remember my concern as a mother, and as an elementary school teacher, for our two children and the potential impact all the moves and school changes might have on their lives. Today, they both tell us they are glad for all the places they got to live and for the friends they made. This joyful journey, at least from the perspective of looking back with rejoicing and not regret, included 20 moves for the family and 26 moves for Kerry.
If I could go back, I’d let go of the last assignment more quickly, enjoy the current place of duty even more, and think less about our future assignments, leaving that in God’s providential care. I will always cherish the support of our beloved denomination, especially Home Missions. Pat Thomas was so encouraging and was especially helpful and caring to me as a young chaplain’s wife beginning my journey as a missionary to the military. It is my special joy now to serve alongside Kathey Crowe in a ministry of encouragement to our chaplain wives as I continue this extended journey.
Please join me in praying for our nation, our leaders, our military, and our FWB chaplains and their families. Please commit to pray for our currently serving military chaplain wives: Mona (Terry) Austin, Ginger (Tracy) Kerr, Blair (Lee) Frye, Darla (Kevin) Trimble, Danielle (Mark) McCraney, Emmy (Hal) Jones, Sherri (Brad) Hanna, Jan (Roy) Swisher, and Cathy (Amir) Ashoori.
In addition, please lift up the widows of former FWB chaplains: Bertie (Gerald) Mangham, Betty (James) Bishop, Wanda (David) Spears, and Brenda (Ernest) Harrison. Thank God for our retired chaplains and their wives and children: the family of Nedo Eady, medically retired and deceased; the Walt Golding family; the Tim Sturgill family; the David Burgess family; the Larry Langford family; the Steve Simpson family; the Robert Cooper family; the David Trogdon family; and the John Carey family.
PRAISE & REFLECTION
Kerry has often told churches that I had the toughest job in the Army as an Army wife. He would add that he had the very best position, serving as a FWB Army chaplain. He felt doubly blessed to serve as both a soldier of the cross and a soldier of our country. He really did enjoy the military and the life of a soldier, but there were some hard, challenging times for him. I didn’t just like our life in the military. I absolutely loved it! I have no regrets. Rather, I have wonderful memories of all the places we lived and the people we met. I would gladly do it all over again.
Thanks to God and our fellow Free Will Baptists, for endorsing us for military chaplain ministry and allowing and enabling us to represent you while serving God and Country.
About the Writer: Brenda Steedley faithfully served beside her husband as an Army wife for 34 years. Her current assignment/primary duty involves loving and caring for five grandchildren. Learn more about the Free Will Baptist chaplain's ministry: www.FWBNAM.com.