Ministry offers healing for returning veterans (video)
Nov. 10, 2013 at 5:10 a.m.
Updated Nov. 11, 2013 at 5:11 a.m.
Veterans Day is the most difficult day of the year for 30-year-old disabled Iraq war veteran Nick Lowry.
"This is a day of honor, yet it is my biggest trigger," Lowry said.
The Marine corpsman lost his lieutenant and two of his comrades on Veterans Day in 2004. Eight soldiers, including Lowry, also were wounded during the mission to clear houses in Fallujah.
"As I hold the highest respect for the service of my brothers and sisters, I also hold the greatest heartache for the blood shed on this day," Lowry said. "This is the one day of the year I have trouble standing tall."
Despite the casualties, servicemen and women in combat watch their comrades' backs in ways veterans do not always find in their civilian lives.
Lowry has found a way to help build that support away from the military. Lowry founded the Christian Warriors Retreat as well as a home ministry to provide veterans with camaraderie strengthened through mutual faith.
The Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20 includes a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, a shield of faith, a helmet of salvation, a sword of the Spirit and firm footing in peace.
Modern-day military personnel add striker plates that protect their backs in combat, which Lowry equates with the support his ministry offers veterans.
"You always have a brother to look out for you and watch your back," Lowry said.
In addition to Bible study and fellowship, the ministry offers tools to help veterans overcome triggers that come with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, both of which Lowry lives with.
"Nick still has that 'doc' mentality," said Col. Mike Petrash, 57, assistant chairman of the retreat. "That's his gift - healing."
Lowry and Petrash are deeply passionate about helping warriors heal physically, psychologically and spiritually. In turn, their work supports families with divorce rates that exceed 90 percent, Petrash said.
In October, 27 veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars attended the first four-day retreat at Yorktown's El Shaddai Ranch.
"Men were willing to share their deepest secrets to draw strength and overcome their struggles," Lowry said. "Some laughed and cried for the first time in 40 years."
Veterans get real at retreats, Petrash said. They let feelings deep inside of them loose, which is the first step in healing.
The nondenominational retreat is Christian-based, but the point is not to pound religious beliefs into anyone, he said.
"We love, appreciate, honor and respect them, and that is most important," Petrash said.
Veterans often judge themselves too harshly, he said. They do not realize other veterans have had the same experiences.
During the retreat, Petrash and a group of veterans were walking from one location to another when he realized they were all in step.
"I felt like I was with family," Petrash said. "We don't walk; we march."
Nicki Lowry and other wives, called angels at the retreat, supported their husbands by cooking, cleaning, making beds and praying.
"It's about serving without expectations," she said.
The angels prayed unceasingly for their warriors during the entire retreat, Petrash said.
The ministry also meets in Lowry's home from 6 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday so the veterans can maintain their connections. Both the retreats and meetings are open to veterans of all eras.
As a corpsman, Lowry said he could not emotionally deal with one soldier's death in combat because he constantly had to worry about so many others.
"With the ministry, I can take time to talk, cry or laugh with everyone," he said. "It's a true blessing to go from combat to ministry."
Spiritual directors delivered sermons each day of the retreat, and nearly a dozen veterans provided personal testimony about forgiveness, perseverance, growth and significance, among other topics.
"All veterans have been through war - they have that in common," said Vietnam War veteran Martin Garcia, 67, of Bloomington. "Learning to confide, trust and pray together brings us even closer together."
Garcia, who indulged in alcohol to forget his experiences in Vietnam, stopped drinking more than a decade ago.
Like many veterans, Lowry thought that his significance had diminished when his time as a combat corpsman ended. As a corpsman, he preserved the health and well-being of his comrades constantly.
Naturally, his roles in civilian life are less intense than those in the military. However, they are no less important, he said.
"The ministry helps veterans see who they are, how they are needed by their spouses and how they are spiritual leaders and examples for their children," Lowry said.
Veterans involved in ministry remain servicemen and women who move from serving country to serving God, he said.
During his deployment, Lowry endured multiple explosions that caused brain injuries.
Lowry fought in the initial invasion of Baghdad in 2003 and returned to Iraq in 2004 to clear Fallujah. He was awarded three Purple Hearts during his service.
In 2005, he came home to Camp Pendleton, where he remained until his transfer to the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi the next year.
As his military career drew to a close in 2007, a new phase of Lowry's life began. His transition into a world without those who understood him was tough. His life spun out of control with anger and alcohol.
"The end was bittersweet," he said. "I wanted to be back with the guys because I held myself responsible for everyone who didn't come home."
He told himself he could have done something differently or better had he been there.
His wife, Nicki, describes this as "survivor's guilt."
"I didn't understand - he was a completely different guy from the one I knew," she said.
She described an emotionless husband with a dead gaze, unless he was angry.
"The only emotion he had down was anger, and he had it down well," she said.
She prayed and educated herself about her husband's struggles.
The high school friends who later married have four children ages 3 to 9.
They attend Northside Baptist Church in Victoria, where their children also go to school.
"We chose Northside because the pastor preaches the scripture," Lowry said. "The church has a Christian sports program, and they embrace my ministry."
The Lowrys also participate in Bible study with other young, married couples through the church.
"I don't regret my service, even though it made life difficult," Lowry said. "Without those struggles, I would not be the man I am today, and the ministry would not exist."