By Simon Gonzalez, Samaritan’s Purse web editor
The conversation started, as many do, with the search for common ground.
Jason and Danielle Vest are from Texas, specifically the Fort Worth area. That’s where I used to live and work. They met at Texas A&M, where I went to school.
We talked a little more, and it quickly became obvious that we had something else in common. Jason and Danielle are Jesus followers, genuinely seeking Him, trusting Him, and striving to live and share the Gospel with others.
Maybe they didn’t need to be at Samaritan Lodge Alaska, at least not for the marriage enrichment classes where the couples learn biblically-based techniques that they can use for their relationships. But maybe they did.
Samaritan Lodge Alaska is the major component of Operation Heal Our Patriots, the Samaritan’s Purse ministry for military service members who have been wounded or injured while serving their country. The purpose of the wilderness camp is to provide a place for couples to focus on each other and to address the stress that an injury or wound can add to military marriages.
Jason and Danielle already had Jesus at the center of their relationship. They didn’t need this…did they? As we continued to talk, it became obvious to me that the answer was no, and yes. Because even when we know Jesus, and think we have it figured out, God still speaks and acts and does marvelous things in our lives.
Jason, an Air Force special operations pilot who flew a U-28, is suffering from Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome–a rare autoimmune condition characterized by muscle weakness of the limbs. The condition started while he was serving in Iraq. The origin is unknown.
“The best the doctors could give me was, ‘It’s environmentally triggered,’” he said. “My symptoms were the worst in Iraq.”
The symptoms are mostly characterized by weakness. Medicine helps, but there are side effects, so Jason tries to minimize its use.
“When I’m not on medication I feel pretty bad,” he said. “I have a hard time moving my muscles. Even with medicine I’m not as strong as I was before. There’s no cure, no remission. To be 31 years old, to lose your strength like that, it’s been such a mental struggle to stay calm and to not let it take over my life.”
Jason and Danielle admit that the disease put a strain on their marriage, particularly when it first manifested. Jason was granted a medical discharge, and there were challenges as he tried to reintegrate into his family.
“It was really rough at first,” he said. “There were some super hard times. Life goes on. Marriage goes on. The kids need what they need.
“I think God brought us through, even the hard times. God told me, the battle belongs to the Lord. I take strength from that.”
There it was again, “God brought us through. God told me.” Past tense. Jason and Danielle get it. They already apply their faith, and the Bible, to their marriage.
Danielle nodded as Jason talked.
“Things like this either make or break a marriage,” she said. “You’re either done, or you come out stronger and are able to help others.”
Jason and Danielle have turned to God to help deal with the disease, and to strengthen their marriage. It turned out they didn’t need that reminder. But God still used the program to help them in a big way. During one of the sessions, words from camp chaplain Jim Fisher resonated with the couple.
“The chaplain said something yesterday,” Danielle said on their third day in Alaska. “What the devil intended for evil, God can use it for good. How do you obey through it? It’s not just about us.”
It confirmed what Jason and Danielle already had been thinking. What if God didn’t just want to strengthen them to persevere through the hard times? What if he wanted to use them to minister to others?
Jason and Danielle already were praying about going to Bible school or seminary. The week at Samaritan Lodge Alaska confirmed it.
“Towards the end of the week, one of the devotionals really gave me some answers I had been looking for,” Jason said. “I spoke with the chaplain and he affirmed something that I have been praying about: my entering into ministry.”
Jason is now applying to enter a seminary in Texas to pursue a Masters of Divinity. He said he wants to be able to minister to veterans.
“Samaritan’s Purse was the first program that wasn’t afraid to tell us how much we needed God in such difficult times,” he said. “Danielle and I really benefited from our quality time together and from the marriage workshops. I think what you all are doing is great and it has motivated me to do my part in sharing God’s love.”