THERE is a saying among veterans that “some gave all, all gave some, and some are still giving”.
Sunday, August 18, was celebrated as Vietnam Veterans’ Day around Australia.
It coincides with the 63rd anniversary of the battle of Long Tan where 105 soldiers of D company 6RAR held out valiantly and prayerfully against more than 2000 North Vietnamese and Vietcong who were trying to annihilate them.
The movie Danger Close, now showing in cinemas, records the story of Long Tan.
Three of those Australian soldiers have subsequently become ministers of religion including Catholic Deacon Graeme Davis, of Lismore.
Imbued with a spirit of service they and others are still giving.
About 47,000 of the 60,000 soldiers that deployed to Vietnam are still alive despite most of them having significant health issues as a result of their service.
For most of them the war is still being waged. But some are experiencing a new life.
Awakening a new spirit
Thirty of those Vietnam veterans – alongside about 250 veterans of more recent conflicts – have participated in the Timor Awakening program facilitated by the Veterans Care Association led by former Marist College Ashgrove student Michael Stone and his father Brisbane Deacon Gary Stone.
For these veterans a new life of giving, caring and sharing is emerging.
One of those veterans Rob Schreuder and his wife Belinda Mai recently completed the ninth Timor Awakening program.
For both of them it was an amazing awakening experience bringing them closer together as a couple, but also it was a deeply religious experience.
At the end of the program 74-year-old Mr Schreuder shared with the group of 30 participants that up until then he had not been a believer because his early upbringing was as a non-believer.
Mr Schreuder and Belinda Mai, a Catholic from Vietnam, were married by a celebrant 12 years ago.
Mr Schreuder often thought that it would be nice to join Belinda in the Catholic Church, and to be married in the Church as well.
As a result of the program, he discovered that he had developed a faith in God and now wished to join his wife by becoming a Catholic, and he requested Deacon Stone to arrange a Church wedding.
Additionally, Mr Schreuder offered to be the project manager for the development of a veterans’ centre known as Riak Retreat, near the town of Same in Timor Leste, with the immediate task of building an English language institute with accommodation for students, staff and visiting veteran groups.
Improving mental and physical health
Reflecting on his experiences with the Timor Awakening program, Mr Schreuder said it was what he needed at his stage of life.
“Having served 38 years in Army uniform since enlisting in 1962 as a 16-year-old Army apprentice, the Army was my life,” he said.
“The way I thought, walked, talked and behaved was military throughout.
“The Veterans Care Association gave me a breath of fresh air, as the Timor Awakening program composes holistic health education, personal and group counselling (for me and my wife), peer-to-peer veteran support, and pastoral care.
“I have personally gained so much from this program, it has made me a better person.
“I have witnessed many of my Veteran mates who attended the program improve their mental and physical being; most appear to be a lot happier in themselves and with their families, and are now enjoying themselves.
“I now want to ‘give back’ and have joined the Veterans Care Association to help not only our Australian veterans but to support the Timor-Leste veterans and their families through the Timor Awakening program.
“They deserve our support.”
Developing this facility along with the sponsorship of children of Timorese veterans in gaining a higher education and work skills is a wonderful work of compassion and charity that is a response to faith.
Deacon Stone shares that he and his son Michael and a small group of supporters saw a significant need to provide healing to veterans in the most holistic way possible.
But none of the government or ex-service organisations were providing complementary spiritual nourishment to veterans.
This is exactly what has made the Veterans Care programs so unique and successful.
In his own reflection on an approach to mission today, Deacon Stone said he did not set out to convert people to any particular way of thinking.
Instead his team sets out to care for those in need by facilitating education and reflected experiences – nurturing body, mind, soul, relationships and a future life purpose.
“Discovering a spirituality is a key component but we evangelise by caring, sharing and facilitating an experience of intentional healing, and let the Holy Spirit do the talking in people’s hearts,” Deacon Stone said.
“Today society is more interested in what we do with our faith than what we have to say about it.
“Our defining symbol is that of the Good Samaritan and our inspiration is Jesus’ reflection in Luke 4 – ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon us for he has anointed us to bring good news to the afflicted … liberty to captives … new sight to the blind and set the downtrodden free’.”
More information on this ministry is available on www.veteranscare.com.au and donations to the veterans’ centre project – RIAK Retreat – can be made online at www.timorawakening.com.au
A two-minute homily on the underpinning spirituality of this ministry is available this week on the Brisbane Archdiocesan Facebook page and on the website: www.brisbanecatholic.org.au