In December, Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Gonzalez, an active duty Marine and member of Saddleback Church, traveled to his duty assignment at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was deployed to complete two missions; his first mission was a military one. The second was sacred - to establish a Saddleback campus in a war zone; Saddleback Camp Leatherneck.
The latter mission was almost grounded . . . literally. The plane carrying Jeff, his Saddleback small group materials, and his fellow marines broke down several times on the way to Afghanistan. But Jeff was determined to share the Gospel, and Camp Leatherneck’s first Sunday service took place in an airport baggage claim area as several Marines huddled around a computer to watch a live service from the Lake Forest campus.
Despite Jeff’s training and desire to pastor a church, several challenges presented themselves upon his arrival to Afghanistan. These challenges forced him to release control of his own agenda and concentrate solely on his end goals – to glorify God and share the Gospel. By forming on-base friendships with several chaplains, he was able to speak briefly at three consecutive Sunday services on the importance of community through small groups. On the third Sunday, Jeff invited attendees to join a small group. Seventy individuals and eight leaders were raised up in that one service!
The Camp Leatherneck small groups initially participated in the 40 Days in The Word study. When that study concluded, some service personnel, thirsty for more learning, studied The Purpose Driven Life. Saddleback Church donated copies of the a special camouflage-covered version of the book, and many personnel on base approached Jeff to ask for a copy. They wanted a burning question answered, “What is the purpose of my life?”
To ensure ongoing growth on base, and to equip servant leaders, Jeff provided C.L.A.S.S. (Christian Life And Service Seminar) training. As more leaders were trained, small group participation grew. By his departure in April, small group participation was on fire and spreading. Groups were formed based on different nationalities, gender, and service status.
Now back in the states after his recent deployment, Jeff is full of gratitude to the Saddleback community. “Thank you for the tremendous amount of support,” Jeff said. “Continued prayers for all service people are needed.”
Jeff’s heart and focus include not just service men and women, but also those who don’t wear the uniform. "Families of military personnel serving overseas also need support". Jeff stated sobering statistics, “Marriages take a hit. There is an 80% divorce rate. Please help out those who are serving in the military by participating in a military ministry.”
Saddleback’s San Clemente campus hosts a military outreach ministry which comes alongside military spouses to help them adjust to living apart during deployment Members of the ministry perform tasks like mowing lawns, fixing a baby’s room or helping out on a serve day.
These simple tasks, which cost no money, have a powerful impact on military personnel and their families. “When the church family steps up, and you learn during a phone call home your household was shown love and ongoing care is available, it is much better than any candy bar in a box or care package.”
“If you live outside the area,” Jeff explained “consider joining a military ministry in a town near you. They can always use more volunteers.”
If you would like to volunteer, please contact the Saddleback San Clemente Military Ministry at firstname.lastname@example.org.