They want to remember soldiers who risked their lives for freedom.
By LINDA M. LINONIS
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
COLUMBIANA — “It’s a dramatic illustration,” said Nelda Hawkins, secretary at Jerusalem Lutheran Church, describing the stars reflecting the number of soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As of Thursday, there were 3,588 stars posted in the church sanctuary. The stars, 24 on 150 sheets of 8-by-11-inch paper, now take up about 150 feet of the church walls. In fact, the display nearly circles the sanctuary twice.
The Rev. David Conrad, church pastor, said it’s vital that people remember each star represents a person, not a statistic, and that person had a family, job and dreams.
In its continuing support and remembrance of those serving in the military, the church at 415 S. Main St. had a meditation and prayer service Thursday night.
Those attending were invited to bring photos of loved ones serving in the armed forces, which are displayed on a military altar at the church. The military altar is dedicated to Ohio soldiers.
The altar features photos of 16 soldiers, some from the community who are serving in the military, and mementos of soldiers including a K-ration (military meal). There’s also an arrangement of spent shells arranged in a starburst pattern.
“On Memorial Day, we had a color guard and put up new flags,” Hawkins said. The shells are from that ceremony.
“We timed the service around July 4 to remember the sacrifices that are being made daily by a few people for the many,” said the Rev. Mr. Conrad. “They are fighting to preserve our freedom and the freedom of oppressed people elsewhere.
“We wanted to do something to raise awareness,” he said. “It’s too easy to get numb to it ... seeing it on TV day after day.”
Mr. Conrad noted that the church prays every Sunday for the troops. (Services are at 8:30 and 10:45 a.m.) “We pray that everyone returns home safely,” he said. Prayers also are said for those who have died.
Mr. Conrad said he and Hawkins work as a team to coordinate the tribute. “Nelda checks the military Web sites and gets the names and photos of Ohio soldiers who have died,” he said, noting they are posted at the church. The military Web site is militarycity.com.
“It’s important to have a face to go along with a name. They are real people,” Mr. Conrad said. “They don’t have to be a member of our church ... we consider our friends as part of the church family.” And friends extends to the community, he noted.
In addition to prayer, the church also provides practical help for soldiers. “The phone card ministry sends prepaid phone cards to troops,” Hawkins said. Donations toward this project also are accepted. “It’s a big help to families to keep in touch,” she said.
Mr. Conrad also noted that children of the church are involved and send birthday cards to soldiers. “The soldiers know that someone is thinking about them and someone cares,” he said.
The Vindicator published a story about the church and its project in June 2006. The soldier death toll at that time numbered 2,491. Mr. Conrad noted that the military tribute would continue as long as troops are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We never thought it would go on this long,” Hawkins said of the project and the war.
“This is our calling. It’s what we do,” Mr. Conrad said of the prayer effort for soldiers.
And the prayers will continue.
XFor more information on the military altar or to donate a phone card, call the church at (330) 482-2136.