From Iraq to Kansas City

Vincent Morales grew up in a family surrounded by members of the U.S military. His grandfather, a WWII veteran, was a prisoner of war; his mother, Teresa, and father, George, are Air Force veterans; his brother, Sergeant Jesus Morales, is on active duty in Georgia, along with many uncles and other relatives.

As a teen growing up on the west side of Kansas City, Missouri, Vincent had a rebellious streak. Knowing that he needed a better direction in life, he turned to the U.S. Army.

Morales was denied his first enlistment request due to his record from his teenage years. Then, after the tragic events of 9/11, he enlisted in 2003 at the age of 20 and continued the family tradition of pursuing a military career.

Upon completion of One Station Unit Training, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Morales earned the Military Occupational Specialty of combat engineer (12B). Once stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington, Morales was deployed to Iraq for a year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Shortly after his return, he was sent to Germany and then to the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Baqubah for two years. During this time, he served as squad leader, platoon sergeant and IED Blow in Place disposal team commander. Morales recalls this assignment as one of the toughest he faced.

“On a mission, our squad was ambushed and my best friend, Tyler, who I met at basic training, was hurt and ended up passing away in my arms. I had the privilege of helping him ease into the next world,” he recalls. “From that experience, I’ve been able to think about Tyler every day. Even though I have had it bad at times, there are brothers and sisters who have lost their right and ability to complain even about the small things—rent, how high gas is, taxes and politics— and that is something that motivated me to serve my fellow veterans.”

In 2009, after serving three tours, Morales joined the U.S. Army Reserves. He has found his “true calling” with his new role as a peer mentor at The Salvation Army’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) of the Kansas and Western Missouri Division.

“Morales works with veterans— many who are homeless—to get them into secure, permanent housing. I knew I wanted to work with veterans, and the position I have is amazing,” he says. “I feel like I have soldiers. Our goal is to get veterans and soldiers off the street and into housing.”

While housing services come first, Morales also focuses on locating veterans, helping them to navigate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and providing them with one-on-one mentoring sessions. “Our clients come from a range of military eras,” he shares. “I’m not a counselor, but my job is to be there as a fellow veteran, as their brother, and help them realize that there are other alternatives to their situation.

“’No’ is not an answer for me, as a veteran and as a peer mentor. Telling a family no is not in my vocabulary.”

The SSVF program is segmented into two sections. Rapid Rehousing (RR) is a housing assistance program for veterans on the street. The Homeless Prevention (HP) funding section is a program for preventative situations, as in the case of a veteran who was recently laid off and needed assistance to avoid becoming homeless. In working closely with such individuals, Morales has found his niche as he has built connections that lead to successful transitions for veterans in the Greater Kansas City area.

“I think of myself as the Swiss army knife of The Salvation Army,” he says. “We are a housing-first program, but there are other places I connect our veterans. I work with the Veterans Administration on benefits and healthcare issues, with the veterans center and many other community partners to help these individuals with all aspects of their life.”

The Salvation Army is the resource that unites all of these programs, Morales explains. He directs his clients to the food pantries, housing shelters, ministry services and more. He has big dreams for the SSVF program, with one primary goal for the future. “I’d love to see The Salvation Army operating a veterans shelter [in the Kansas City area]” he says. “While we have shelters, we don’t have something specifically for our veterans.”

Walk Far

The first time I left the United States for overseas service, I overpacked. I wanted all the comforts of home. I was afraid of the unknown, afraid to be without. When I returned to the United States after almost 30 years overseas, I came home with four suitcases. I learned important lessons along the way about posessions and what really fulfills us.

Early in my journey, I read a thought-provoking paper written by Commissioner Phil Needham entitled “Theology of Enough.” In this paper, Needham points out that most of us have more possessions than we need or could possibly use in a lifetime. We consume far more than our fair share. Despite our generosity, a vast majority of our brothers and sisters around the world can justifiably say to us, “Enough is enough.”

So how do we train ourselves to be content with less while also becoming more generous? Much of the world perceives U.S. citizens as wealthy, but we often don’t even realize how much we have. It can be hard to make decisions about with whom to share our gifts and how to share when there are so many pressing needs. One thing I have learned is that sharing is not only about what you have, it’s about who you are and how you offer yourself to the world.

Without a relationship, sharing is charity. And there is a place for charity, but is that all we are called to do? By forming relationships first, sharing becomes more like hospitality—an opening of ourselves to others, to giving and receiving.

Scripture challenges us to consider what “enough” really means. Extravagance in the spiritual sense is not about physical possessions, but about how we extend the gifts of mercy, kindness and forgiveness to others. So let’s not be afraid to open ourselves up to generosity.

How wonderful it would be if the world became so full of hospitality, love and forgiveness that people everywhere would say, “Enough is enough!”

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By April Joy Foster
APRIL FOSTER is director of Others – Trade
for Hope (www.tradeforhope.com). In this series
she shares lessons learned from her 29 years in
overseas ministry.

Teach Your Children Well

The sin and temptation of modern society can seem overwhelming, especially to parents of children. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Here is some advice for building strong children today.

1. Show that God is real and important to you by putting God’s Word on display in your home. Put a bowl of Bible verses by the door and tuck one in your pocket each day as you leave the house, and help your children to do the same. Model behavior for your children by letting God save you utterly and completely. (One website with an abundance of childfriendly Bible verses is www.bibleparent.com.)

2. If your children are around ten years old, ask if they have ever seen pictures of sex. Explain that sex is easy but love is hard, and without God impossible. The four-letter word is more powerful than the three letter one. Share what love means to you. Show love in your family. Have them tell you what love is. Their answer will reveal if their idea of love is centered on themselves or on others.

3. Make sure your children have a forever family, a church family. Do everything you can to make sure they have access to their heavenly Father, especially if they are children of divorce. A major resiliency factor (something that neutralizes risk factors in a child’s life) is a close relationship with at least one adult. Other important resiliency factors are regular church attendance and deep personal faith. Divorce and single parenting are tough, but don’t give up; with God all things are possible.

4. Be a part of your children’s social life. Host their friends one night a week or month. Try to restrict the amount of time your children play video games (30 minutes a day is reasonable) or stay sedentary in front of screens, as this can lead to anti-social behavior or a lack of exercise. Life without video games and TV might seem boring, but life without friends or hobbies is no life at all.

5. No child is immune to anger. Helping children learn to deal with anger has two parts. First, teach them self-control, so they can avoid reactive behavior like fighting or vandalism. Second, help them solve the problem causing the anger. After all, anger does not make problems go away, it just makes people go away. If children don’t learn to deal with the causes at the root of their anger, acting out can become a habit that lasts a lifetime, so it is vital to help them find emotional balance and wellbeing.

6. Help your children pursue their dreams. Visit the library to check out books on various occupations, from photographer to biologist, and biographies and autobiographies of admirable men and women, from Abraham Lincoln to Malala Yousafzai. Books can enable children to find their passions and future careers and to aspire to do good in the world. As you help your children find God’s vision for their future, pray together for guidance.

7. Make prayer a habit in your home. Knowing that God is real is critical, and developing a personal relationship with Him is important. Start with the Lord’s Prayer; then help your children find one or more prayer partners. Children who do not pray with others are not as likely to pray on their own. The website www.teachustopray.com is helpful.

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By Charles White