Ben Peterson presents the Engage Your Destiny for Veterans and Their Families event at Bridgewood Church, Sept. 9. Photo provided
BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
Nightmares plagued Ben Peterson after his return from a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2009. But it was a dream that helped him, too.
“It was a vivid dream,” Peterson said. “I was at a youth ministry and it was failing, a nightmare, causing a riot, but then the dream changed.”
Instead of a failing ministry, he saw a bag filled with stories.
“I was wide awake, 3:30 in morning, and I looked up a verse, Galations 6:2, ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ There was no doubt in my mind what I was supposed to do,” he remembered.
He’ll be in town on Sept. 9 at Bridgewood Church to share his story and his duffel bag filled with soldiers’ stories of pain and confusion, as they struggle to adjust to normal life.
Bridgewood is hosting the community wide military event for veterans and their families at 6 p.m., Sept. 9, at the church, 6765 Rattalee Lake Road.
“So many of our veterans come home in despair of what they’ve experienced, the trauma and isolation,” said Susan Marquis, campus pastor at Bridgewood Church. “There’s such a great need for this. People walk away from everything they know to take care of us. How can we not care about them?”
Peterson grew up in Minnesota and joined the Army in 2004.
“I’m from a military family. My grandpa was a pilot in World War II, a war hero,” he said. “With Iraq and Afghanistan, it was a no brainer to go and join in the fight.”
He enlisted hoping to join special forces, but found he was color blind. In a moment of serendipity, a recruiter suggested chaplain’s assistant, serving as body guard to the chaplain and helping with his ministry.
“I had just given my heart to Christ at a youth night a couple months before – I just felt the call of the Lord saying I have a plan for your life,” Peterson said.
He served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2008-2009 with the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade, Minnesota National Guard.
The unit lost people in combat, and civilians were hit hard. One time, a suicide bomber struck a school and the Americans helped treat the wounded.
His first year after returning home was difficult, dealing with post traumatic stress over his experiences overseas.
“For years, they scarred my dreams,” he said. “When you come home, you don’t know how to operate, don’t know how calm down and relax. People don’t know how to deal with you, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I was struggling with alcohol, trying to deal with it. I realized after a month or two, it was getting worse.”
Sharing his story through his new mission has helped, and his goal now is to help others around the country heal and find new purpose.
He works with churches to host events and share stories, reflect on what they’re carrying, write it down, and lay the burden down on the pack. All are welcome, he said.
“You don’t have to be Christian to lay down your burden,” he said. “Jesus carries the burden of those who don’t believe in him.”
He has hundreds of stories so far from young veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as older vets from the Vietnam War.
“I’m blown away by how much Vietnam veterans have engaged with it,” he said.
This is the first veterans event for Bridgewood. The church planning team has worked on it for a few months, meeting with local VFW, American Legion, and Veterans Administration officials to organize a military museum, free food, inflatables and kids events, and other activities for veterans and families.
“This is about them. We want to help them, the men and women and their families who have sacrificed for us,” Marquis said.
For more information, check engageyourdestiny.com and bridgewood church.com, or call 248-625-1344.