Called Up to Serve
In a Wisconsin congregation, a pastor and his people prepare for a year of separation due to a military deployment.
The Rev. Chad Czischke straddles two vastly different worlds. Most of his time is spent at Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Houlton, Wis., where he prepares sermons, teaches Bible classes, attends church council meetings, visits members and does all the things that take up a typical parish pastor’s time. But one weekend per month, and at various other times throughout the year, Major Czischke dons fatigues and serves alongside an armored battalion of the Minnesota Army National Guard as a military chaplain.
Despite the differences between these two contexts, “God is there through all of them, no matter what,” Czischke says. “I say, ‘God, please allow me to be Your instrument of peace during this time and to be in the right place at the right time to share that love, that mercy of what You’ve given us with those who are in desperate need.’”
In early March, Czischke said goodbye to his family and to the members of Family of Christ and left for training and a nearly yearlong deployment to Kuwait. During this time, he and his chaplain’s assistant will care for the spiritual needs of more than 700 soldiers.
This is his second long-term deployment, but it’s a first in many ways. His two daughters, ages 7 and 11, are now old enough to realize that he’s gone and won’t be coming back for some time. It’s also the first time he’ll return from a deployment to pastor a congregation after a long absence.
“The toughest conversation is how do we come back together and then move forward, and what is that going to look like? There’s a lot going on in my head right now, a lot going on in my heart. And I know it’s the same with the church,” he says. “That’s why I emphasized to move forward in Christ, and Christ will guide and lead us.”
Although it’s unusual for a congregation to have to plan for its pastor to be gone this long, “this is part of our congregation’s mission,” says congregational president Becky Volovsek. “It’s a way that we can help ensure that the men and women of our armed forces have spiritual support and are hearing about the love of Jesus.”
Filling both roles is no easy task. It’s hard to juggle work, home and military obligations, and it’s especially difficult to leave his congregation and family for an extended period of time. Yet, Czischke also has been able to speak of the hope he has in Christ to soldiers who are going through things that are painful or difficult. “It’s the opportunity to serve people that probably would never step foot in a church,” he says.
Congregational leaders had nearly a year to figure out how to handle Czischke’s absence. They talked with representatives from their LCMS district and LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces, as well as with the Rev. Chad Boggs, a military chaplain who also serves a congregation in Nebraska.
“It was helpful to hear both from the Synod and then from Pastor Boggs,” Volovsek says. “Other churches do this, and it ends up being fine.”
The LCMS Minnesota South District, where Family of Christ is located, helped the congregation look at the options and ultimately find an intentional interim pastor. As the deployment drew closer, members of Family of Christ also began thinking about ways to support Czischke’s wife and daughters while he is away.
“One thing I’ve learned about military families is they are proud, they are independent,” Czischke says. “It’s very hard for a military family to reach out and say, ‘Hey, I need help with this.’ … A congregation can easily come into that situation, but it takes, I would say, a lot of thought and a lot of care. As a congregation, you need to reach out to them.”
So far, a few individuals have already offered to provide rides and babysitting when needed, and the elders are making plans to help out with things like snow removal, yard work and house repairs. The hope is that these small gestures can help lighten the load that both the military chaplain and his family must carry during a deployment.
“Whenever you have your pastor leave for any extended period of time, there’s some turmoil,” says Family of Christ founding member Jerry Schouten. “But it’s a big deal, in my opinion, to think that somebody is there for those in the military who really need him. It’s an honor to be able to share Pastor Czischke. We’ve got to feel proud that we’ve got somebody who’s willing to do both.”
Megan K. Mertz
Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.