To serve the spiritual and emotional needs of Latter-day Saint military personnel involved in the Persian Gulf War, more than 100 LDS servicemen's groups, spread out across the Arabian peninsula, are organized and functioning.
"It is somewhat a miracle," Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Presidency of the Seventy and chairman of the Church's Military Relations Committee said of the organization of the groups and the large number of them.Elder Hanks explained that group leaders were called and set apart prior to deployment to the Gulf region. The group leaders also received the necessary supplies, such as sacrament trays and song booklets, to conduct LDS services. In addition, each serviceman and woman should have received from the Church the pocket-sized edition of the scriptures, which they were permitted to take with them to the war zone. Additional copies are available through group leaders for those who were not previously supplied with the scripture set.
"We have the organization, the authority and the commission to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the military," Elder Hanks said.
The LDS groups range in size from five to six members to more than 200, he explained. "Some of the groups have difficulty getting together because of lack of transportation and the servicemen and women are so spread out." Still, he said, weekly attendance ranges from three to four in some groups to as many as 175 in others. Most of the groups meet on Sunday, although several of them are meeting on Friday, which is the local religious day in Saudi Arabia.
Elder Hanks said circumstances in the Gulf War have not yet permitted setting up a Church organization among the military personnel, like that in Vietnam during the Vietnam War where four districts were organized. However, this will be done, he said, when conditions permit.
"Some of the groups are like fully organized branches, in effect," Elder Hanks went on. "They have a quorum structure, home teaching and activation and activities committees. But," he emphasized, "the servicemen and women are not in a relaxed condition where they can go to worship services every week.
"But it is nothing short of a miracle to see these military people dispersed all over the sands of the Arabian peninsula, meeting and praying together regularly, taking the sacrament, singing the hymns, reading from the scriptures, teaching each other and enjoying the sweet blessings of that comfort and assurance of the Church as regularly as circumstances permit," said Elder Hanks.
Elder Hanks explained that perhaps 1 percent of the military men and women in the war zone are LDS. That would mean that some 4,500 or more LDS are involved in the war. He said the morale of the LDS servicemen and women is high.
In addition to the LDS groups functioning in the Arabian peninsula, 15 LDS chaplains are serving in the region.
Elder Hanks said the Church and its members should also be concerned about the families the servicemen and women left behind.
"You have to wonder if anybody, except those who are suffering, can really understand the nature of this traumatic, unexpected situation in which they suddenly find themselves," Elder Hanks declared.
"I feel sure that every bishop, with his mantle of responsibility, would be conscious that the separation and isolation, in such an abrupt way, of families from their loved ones is a very serious and significant and threatening thing."
"But in addition," he continued, "every quorum, every group and every home teacher with whom there is some relationship with these separated families should prayerfully, carefully and thoughtfully discuss this issue now and be conscious that there can be and should be some special attention paid to these people.
"There are spiritual needs and emotional needs, and there well may be physical needs that the local priesthood and Relief Society leaders and neighbors ought to be conscious of and consider. We shouldn't just assume that everything is all right," Elder Hanks emphasized. "There may need be special visits and special help given.
"This is a mean, miserable, uncomfortable, lonely life for our service personnel, separated from their loved ones and with the intense threat to their well-being. We must not let our concerns and our interests and our appreciation and prayers diminish," Elder Hanks emphasized.
He also admonished Church members to be mindful of those in their neighborhoods who are affected by the Gulf War but who are not members of the Church.
"If they are in our neighborhoods, we ought to express our neighborly concern in all the good ways there are.
"We need to realize how personal and how wide spread this is in our communities. There are many families who are touched by the Gulf War, not all of whom have membership in the Church or a strong relationship with the Church."
Specific inquiries concerning LDS military men and women involved in the Gulf War may be directed to the Church Military Relations Department, 50 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.