Washington Veterans Home – Retsil in Port Orchard, WA is the largest live-in veteran service facility in Washington State with 240 beds. These veterans have served our country in various wars including the Vietnam War and World War II. One can only imagine the tragedy and trauma that many of the veterans have experienced. How could they find hope and wholeness in the final years of their lives? The Port Orchard Seventh-day Adventist Church wanted to find a way to share. They began working to develop an Adventist presence in this significant facility in their community.
After nearly 40 years of service in the Navy and Army, Lindsay Paden had a passion and heartfelt desire to serve the veterans home. He joined Blenda Feliciano and Warren Officer who had started a small group meeting at the veterans home on Wednesday afternoons. They began these meetings by reading through the book Steps to Christ and discussing its relevance and practical application to the lives of the veterans. There were 4-12 veterans who regularly attended the group. Once they finished the book, they watched and discussed the Thunder in the Holy LandBible study DVD series. During this time, the veterans experienced the character of Jesus and His real love, and they began responding to it. Two residents, Wondle and Richard, began attending Sabbath morning worship services at the Port Orchard Seventh-day Adventist church. They would faithfully schedule rides with the free public “Access” Bus for the disabled in the community.
The midweek Bible studies at the Washington Veterans Home continued for about a year. The veterans, especially those who were not physically able to get out and attend church, kept asking the team to host a Bible Study group on Sabbath afternoons at the facility. As a result, on January 12, 2019, they began a regular branch Sabbath School and hoped to expand the group. They meet regularly in the chapel building every Sabbath afternoon to sing hymns and study the Bible. About 15 members from the church help with transporting the residents to the chapel, teaching the lesson, personally visiting with the residents and praying for them, leading the singing and playing the piano each week.
In May-June of 2019, the Port Orchard Seventh-day Adventist Church hosted a field school of evangelism with a group of eight seminarian students from the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Together, they had the privilege of attending and participating in a dynamic and powerful public evangelistic meeting entitled Revelation of Divine Love. When Richard, one of the veterans home residents, heard about the exciting announcements for the upcoming seminar at church, he asked the pastor, “Are you guys going to do anything with this for us at the Veterans Home?”
Pastor Dustin Serns smiled and responded, “Yes! I’m glad you asked! We knew it wouldn’t be possible for residents at the veterans home to come out to the seminar in the evenings, so we are bringing a piece of the seminar to you!” He went on to explain that three of the seminary students, Betty, Jonathan and I (Ney Khut) would join the church’s ministry at the Veterans Home. For four Sabbath afternoons and three Sunday mornings (a Sunday chapel service), we were there to help bring the veterans to come and listen to the life-changing stories from the Bible. Jonathan and I also led out in a couple of the Sabbath programs. Their goal was to connect with the veterans and invite them to make commitments to Jesus.
God had been working to change lives through the ministry at Washington Veterans Home – Retsil. One of those lives was Wondle. Wondle was born on a farm in Ohio. He was one of seven children. Four of the brothers, including Wondle, served in the Army during the Vietnam War. Subsequent to back surgery which left him paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair bound, he was treated for several years in Chillicothe, Ohio. He was transferred to the Washington Veterans Home almost three years ago to be near to other family members. While there, he received care from Blenda Feliciano, a certified nursing assistant and also a member of the Port Orchard Seventh-day Adventist Church. He was eager to talk with her about spiritual things. Blenda invited Wondle to be part of the Steps to Christgroup at the facility. He continued participating when they hosted the Thunder in the Holy Landgroup. During that series, Wondle began attending worship services at Port Orchard Seventh-day Adventist church and began returning tithe. After several months he asked to officially become a member. Because of his physical limitations he joined by profession of faith. Not long after that, while struggling with some personal demons, he started asking to be baptized by immersion, “the way Jesus was”.
Lindsay and other church members began looking into a way to accommodate Wondle’s baptism. Wondle’s physical limitations combined with the regulations of the veterans home made this a complex process. It would not be possible to have the baptism at the church because of the stairs. Lindsay found a YMCA about 25 minutes away that had a gradual sloped access into their swimming pool. Wondle would need to be transferred from his motorized wheelchair into a standard wheelchair, transported in a vehicle with a wheelchair lift driven by authorized personnel, accompanied by a nurse and physical therapist, and assisted by YMCA staff and church volunteers during the baptism. Volunteers from Port Orchard Seventh-day church who worked at Washington Veterans Home were happy to go out of their way assist their friend Wondle in making this meaningful commitment to Christ. On June 8, 2019 a group of 25-30 friends from the church celebrated with all heaven as Wondle was baptized at the YMCA. The huge smile on his face showed the joy and love he felt from Jesus and his church family. It was a beautiful picture of what can happen when God’s church unites together to help people make commitments to Jesus.
That same day, Richard, another veteran who has been involved in the ministry at Retsil since the beginning, made his decision to unite with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The church is eager to welcome him by profession of faith on July 6, 2019. God continues to bring hope and healing to the veterans at the Washington Veterans Home – Retsil.
The Port Orchard Seventh-day Adventist Church’s mission is to “Bring hope and wholeness to the Kitsap community and beyond.” Part of that mission includes ministering to veterans at the Washington Veterans Home – Retsil. They believe that veterans are the children of God and therefore they are a mission field. They want these veterans to experience the salvation of Jesus Christ as have the church members. They believe that it is important to bring the message of hope and salvation in Jesus to them, because Heaven is preparing a place for them. Elder Lindsay hopes to see this ministry grow and harvest many souls for the soon return of Jesus Christ.
Wherever we are, we can seek to bring hope and wholeness to people in our community. From the youngest child to the oldest senior, all are important to Jesus. He stepped out of His home and place of worship in heaven and came to earth so we could be reached. Jesus invites us to step out of our homes and places of worship into our communities so others can be reached as well. Who is Jesus sending you to in your community? Where could you develop and expand an Adventist presence of hope and wholeness? It doesn’t matter whether you are young or older, whether you are a man or woman—you can still serve God and bloom wherever you are planted because the harvest is huge and the laborers are few.
Ney Khut is a seminary student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University