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Commentary:Visit With Family Restores Hope

Chaplain (Capt.) Donald A. Williamson, USA Special to American Forces Press Service

Shameera, an Afghan girl receiving medical care at Forward Operating Base Kalagush, Afghanistan, smiles with Army medic Pfc. Lauren Knickerbocker, Charlie

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALAGUSH, Afghanistan, March 6, 2008 It's hard to put into words how it feels to come back after such a wonderful break, spending every moment I could with my family. There's a part of me that wishes I never had to leave again.

Many wives call R&R leave the "teaser," because it is just long enough for the family to get used to having their soldier home again, but short enough to remind us how impermanent it really is. I replay the joy on my girls' faces when I came off the plane and juxtapose it with their tears when I had to leave again, and my heart is torn.

But I'm confident that, as hard as it is for them, my family knows this is what God has called us to do. We are missionaries in every sense of the word. Therefore, for this season in our life as a family, my ministry must take me far away from them, while their ministry remains in our neighborhood back home in Germany.

There's my faithful wife, Sue, who ministers to so many wives in the neighborhood; inviting them over for coffee, or going to lunch with them. She listens to them when they are missing their husbands, and takes the kids for them when she sees they need a break. She is my true partner in ministry.

There's Rachel, who is very much involved with our middle school youth program, Club Beyond (Young Life overseas). Before we arrived, the club had about 10 kids in it. When I went with her one Thursday after school, I counted 25 - most of whom were kids she had invited.

My daughter Keziah is perhaps the most faithful friend I have ever known. When she becomes your friend, she is your friend for life. She's a great encourager - even to her dad. The morning after arriving in Kuwait to fly back to Afghanistan, I went over to the latrine to shave. When I opened my toiletry kit, I saw a hand-written card folded neatly inside. The front had a red heart on it with "I love you Daddy" in big block letters. Inside it read, "Dear Daddy, I love you. I already miss you. I hope you are okay. It's just five more months. I can't wait until you come home again. I will count every day. I love you forever. Love, Keziah XOXOXO." Her card helped take away a bit of the sting of having to come back.

Abby is the one who takes all of life in - with great intensity! When she goes to the beach, she doesn't just want to dip her feet in the waves, she wants to swim! When she does gymnastics and acrobatics, she wants to be able to do all the tricks and stunts RIGHT NOW! She loves Awana and church, and tells all of her friends about her friend Jesus like it was simply another friend of hers. On leave, when we were walking home from school one day, she asked, "Daddy, is everyone going to go to heaven?" Pretty deep theological question for a 6-year-old!

"I hope so, sweetheart," I said, squeezing her hand.

"But they need to love Jesus, right?" she asked matter-of -factly.

"That's right honey."

"And that's why you have to go back to Afghanistan," she stated, looking up at me as we walked along the sidewalk. "I mean, we want our soldiers to know Jesus, right?"

I looked down at her, trying not to get choked up. "That's right, baby. That's what God has called me to do."

She smiled. "Then it's OK if you go back," she replied.

But this picture of love across the miles wouldn't be complete if I didn't tell you about my 8-year old, Hannah. You see, the last night before heading back, I was sitting at the dining room table making a list of all the things I needed to ensure I packed, and Hannah came down the stairs holding a small red party bag, the kind used by those of us who are gift-wrapping challenged.

She placed it in my lap and said, "Daddy, I put together some toys that I don't really play with very much any more. They're not broken or anything; I just thought that you might be able to give them to some of the kids that come through the doctor's office at Kalagush."

I opened up the bag. In it, she had put a blue Care Bear, a ball, and some plastic animals. I pulled her close to me.

"Thank you, sweetheart," I said, kissing her on the forehead. "I know that some little girl will cherish these toys. And she will love them even more knowing that they came from you."

So when I returned to FOB Kalagush last week, I unpacked my stuff and went over to the aid station to drop off the bag. Doc Ashby took them from me and said that he was sure there would be a little girl that came through who would love to get them.

On Sunday after chapel, the doc had me head over to the aid station to give me a picture. It was a picture of a little girl named Shameera. She was what many of our medics call a "frequent flyer." Suffering from acute asthma, her parents had no where else to turn, and a year ago had seen her almost die from an asthma attack.

Someone from their village had said they should try going to the "American Army base" for help. She's been coming now for almost a year. The female medic, Pfc. Knickerbocker, says that she just lights up the room when she walks through the door. She appreciates everything that we do for her. So the medics didn't have to think twice about whom to give Hannah's bag of gifts.

As you can see in the picture, her smile really does light up the room! And when I told the medics the story about Hannah and her heart's desire to give her toys to a little girl that she may never meet this side of heaven, it touched their hearts as well.

I think sometimes we forget the good things we are doing over here. That even in the midst battle, there can be peace. In the midst of sadness there can be joy. In the midst of crisis, we can find hope.

It may be by donating phone cards so soldiers can call home, or it may be through Web sites like anysoldier.com or americasupportsyou.mil. It may be by sending a care package to a soldier whom you'll never meet, or sending toys and books to a school in Iraq or Afghanistan. Whatever it is, my prayer is that we don't forget that all of us, in some way, can help make this world a better place.

My family restored hope for me these last few weeks. I know that the Lord has blessed me beyond measure, and as such, I am compelled to bring hopeful blessings to others - soldiers and local nationals alike -- even if that means giving a Care Bear to a little Afghan girl with a smile that lights up the room.

(Army Chaplain (Capt.) Donald A. Williamson serves as battalion chaplain for 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment. This commentary, used by permission, was adapted from an e-mail message he sent to family and friends after returning to Afghanistan following rest and recuperation leave.)

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