When wounded military personnel recovering in the Soldier Recovery Unit at Fort Stewart, Georgia, are physically able, they venture into the great outdoors courtesy of a big-hearted veteran and pastor from South Carolina who knows the value of fresh air and sunshine to the body and soul.
Chuck McAlister, who was stationed in Georgia more than 40 years ago as a young Army officer, welcomes injured soldiers onto a 200-acre sanctuary at Little Mountain, South Carolina, where they can get away from the sterile confines of hospital rooms and experience nature at its finest.
McAlister spearheaded the creation of HomePlace Ministries for young men and women who have sacrificed for their nation. They’re invited here from bases across the country to experience a peaceful place where the stress of the world vanishes away, a holy place where the presence of the Lord is palpable.
Finding spiritual healing
Along with a group of like-minded Christians at Dutch Fork Church in Irmo, South Carolina, McAlister established HomePlace specifically to give injured military personnel a place where they can go with the assurance of anonymity to spend time with their Creator while enjoying His creation.
In the process, McAlister said, they’re finding spiritual healing.
“You have to remember, these wounded soldiers are really young, 19, 20, 21 years old,” said McAlister, pastor at Dutch Fork Church. “We bring them in on Friday evening, and a local restaurant provides a great barbecue spread for them. Over the weekend, they fish. They ride ATVs. They stroll through a 30-acre meadow and an apple orchard. They fish for striped bass on nearby Lake Murray. They are able to relax and let their hair down a little bit. They get in touch with the outdoors. And they get in touch with God.”
A soldier from Fort Liberty, North Carolina, who had been injured in a classified mission overseas caught his first fish in HomePlace’s 7-acre lake. The soldier had grown up in an inner city and was excited to catch his first fish. He stood on the dock wearing jeans, a Nike shirt, baseball cap, and a giant smile while posing with his largemouth bass.
“Catching that fish opened up a conversation about how Jesus said He would make us fishers of men,” McAlister said. “I explained what that means. He prayed on the edge of that pond, and he gave his heart to Jesus.”
Taylor Faraca, a member of the HomePlace board of directors, said soldiers who need service dogs also get them here at no cost. HomePlace Ministries purchases the dogs and pays for their training.
Gary Peters, a retired wildlife biologist who arranges outings on Lake Murray for the wounded soldiers, said outfitters eagerly volunteer their services and their boats because they want to show their appreciation.
“This can be lifechanging for the soldiers,” Peters said. “It’s not the fishing, but it’s knowing that people care about them.”
The soldiers, Peters said, may have been sequestered in hospitals for extended periods recovering from broken bones from training mishaps to wounds received in combat.
The entire Dutch Fork Church family has excitedly gotten behind the ministry, serving as volunteers to make weekend getaways special for wounded soldiers.
“They’re all excited to be a part of an organization that serves our heroes,” Faraca said. “We don’t give glory to anyone but God for what He’s doing through HomePlace.”
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EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Roger Alford and originally published by the Christian Index.