VA Gulf Coast Chaplain Jo Kirkendall first met Chaplain Jim Kirkendall nearly 30 years ago. They were both Navy chaplains, stationed in California. When they met, they found they had similar backgrounds – they both were missionary kids. Jo lived in Africa for 10 years with her physician mother and preacher father. Jim’s family did work in Beirut, so as a child and teenager he lived there for seven years. Now these former missionary kids had grown up to be military chaplains.
Fast forward 16+ years and their paths cross again. They reconnected and two years later they were married.
These days they each have their separate ministries. Jo is a chaplain at the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System. Jim retired with 26 years in both the Army and Navy and now works with their denomination, The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, in disaster relief work.
And together, these two chaplains facilitate the Warrior to Soulmate workshops offered across the health care system to Veterans and their spouses/significant others.
“We’ve had the opportunity to facilitate these workshop for four years,” Jo said. “For us to do this as a couple has such an impact. The couples taking the workshop can see that we don’t just teach these concepts, we live them. And that is very powerful.”
By the end of the day: sitting close and holding hands
Jim agreed. “We’ve had probably 100 couples take this workshop since we started. For some couples, we can see results by the end of the two-day workshop. We’ve had couples come in that are distant to each other and barely talking. By the end of the second day, they are sitting close and holding hands. It is very gratifying to see the impact this workshop has on relationships.”
Jo said she and Jim are the only two chaplains married to each other, teaching this course in their VA network. They are both proud and humbled by the experience.
“We don’t just teach this course,” Jo said, “we live it. The skills we have learned in the workshop have made our own marriage stronger and the couples who attend can see that. Couples don’t have to wait until they are in crisis to participate. The Warrior to Soul Mate workshop will enhance any relationship.”
Some comments from Veterans in the workshop:
What did you like most…
“It offers the most commonsense yet simple tools to encourage safe communication.”
“Offered the chance to do practical exercises which made the information much easier to understand.”
“Brings our communications as a family and married couple much closer and better.”
“I liked that it opened my husband up and in only two days our relationship has gotten better. This will really help our communication and patience skills.”
How do you think the information and skills will be useful in your life?
“We learned how to speak calmly instead of arguing.”
“This gives me the tools to help me not make the same mistakes I made in my previous marriages.”
“It will help us regain the strength in our relationship.”
“Bring a happier, closer, more understanding way of belief to our marriage.”
About the author: Mary Kay Gominger is the Chief of the Community & Public Affairs Service at the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Biloxi, MS