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By Bob Holmes
For many years Bobby Farmer denied that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But the Vietnam veteran and CIU alumnus says, “The many holes in my wall would probably tell you something else.”
“I had the anger, I had the irritation, I had the lack of patience, I had everything you can think of, and I had it since Viet Nam,” explains Farmer who graduated from CIU in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies.
But it wasn’t until he fell into deep depression following a triple by-pass operation, and with the help of counseling, that the ordained Presbyterian pastor and chaplain admitted that he had PTSD. The depression got so bad that it took him 18 months to desire to be in public again. He went from working full time and traveling the world as a missions and outreach pastor to working five hours a week.
But that’s when a group of other former combat veterans at his church, Northeast Presbyterian Church (NEPC) in Columbia, came alongside him. Out of that group was formed the NEPC Combat Veterans Support Group in 2011.
“That brought about healing for me,” Farmer said.
Farmer says there are some experiences and deep thoughts and feelings that a combat veteran can only share with another combat veteran — including struggles with PTSD. That’s when he says, the healing begins.
“The loss of brothers in war, survivor’s guilt, the things that you saw, the things that you did and the things that you felt like you should have done,” Farmer said listing the types of inner wounds some combat veterans keep hidden from most people, but are willing to share with another combat veteran.
Now Farmer is making sure many other veterans have a chance to heal. He is taking the model formulated by the NEPC Combat Support Group to other churches through a new ministry he founded called Project Josiah Restoration Ministry.
Named for the Old Testament Josiah, a righteous king who brought healing to Judah through spiritual reform and the repairing of the temple, Farmer says he is taking the healing of combat veterans to other churches with Project Josiah groups meeting in Aiken, Charleston and Sumter in South Carolina and in Wilmington, N.C.
“Project Josiah brings combat veterans together to peer counsel one another in churches where they have a safe environment and where they feel comfortable to share with their brothers who have been in combat,” Farmer said.
One of the core values of Project Josiah is service. Farmer says getting combat veterans to serve one another is a key to restoration and healing.
“All veterans desire to serve other veterans, but you can’t serve if you’re in your room and you can’t get out,” Farmer said.
And some veterans are literally in their room.
The Project Josiah website includes the testimony of Timothy Shoenfelt, a veteran of the Iraq War, who says one of Farmer’s groups was instrumental in bringing him out of his apartment which he rarely left for two years. Suffering from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD, Shoenfelt says, “By the grace of God, Chaplain Farmer was placed in my life.”
“The struggle is ongoing, but knowing you’re not alone is a huge comfort and relief,” Shoenfelt continues. “Knowing other service men and women feel like you feel, gives you a sense of normalcy.”
Farmer points out that even though the groups meet in churches, and their sessions include prayer, the gatherings are not Bible studies. But the gospel is shared, as Farmer puts it, “organically.”
“As I get to know you, I get to tell you Who I know, and I know Jesus, and I’m going to tell you about Jesus,” Farmer explains. “It’s relationship evangelism. Jesus was with sinners, so that is where I am.”
Farmer says many veterans are going through a spiritual battle. But he knows that for him, God was there in the midst of his depression and doing something new in his life.
“I told God to leave me here until I’ve learned everything I need to know because I know You’re going to cause this to be a ministry,” Farmer said. “And he has made the ministry bigger than anything I’ve ever had before.”
For more information on Project Josiah visit www.projectjosiah.org.