After watching talk show host Oprah Winfrey lead "The World's Largest Baby Shower," author Rebecca Ingram Powell wanted to get a message of eternal value to mothers in the military.

"I thought, 'They need my book,'" Powell said of the October program where Winfrey presented diapers, strollers, high chairs and other merchandise to 600 expectant mothers at Fort Campbell, Ky.

"They need the stuff she was giving and I know what a difference this made for these women," Powell added. "But the Word of God being planted in this new mom when they're vulnerable -- this is important. I thought if Oprah can go down there and do that, why can't we?"

That was the inspiration for "Mission: Military Moms." So far, the effort has generated donations to provide approximately 400 free copies of Powell's book, "Baby Boot Camp: Basic Training for the First Six Weeks of Motherhood" to new mothers.

The 42-day devotional features military themes and is designed to let women know they aren't alone in their grueling new routine. One entry reviews the plan of salvation.

Initially, copies have been donated to chaplains at Fort Stewart, Ga., and Fort Campbell, which are in the midst of baby booms fueled by the return of soldiers from duty in Iraq.

Fort Stewart first saw birth rates zoom in May and June, when they rose nearly 30 percent over last year, according to Laurie Kemp, public affairs officer at Winn Army Community Hospital.

At Fort Campbell, which straddles southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, the average monthly rate of 130 babies jumped to nearly 200 in November.

It is projected to be at 218 for December, 206 in January and stay above 170 through next May, according to Laura Boyd, public affairs officer at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital in Fort Campbell.

Boyd said the national attention originated with a story last summer in the Louisville Courier-Journal about an anticipated baby boom following the return of some 20,000 soldiers that were deployed in early 2003.

The "Today" show and "Inside Edition" are among other national media that have spotlighted the situation and provided donations to mothers.

In addition, author Rick Warren has donated 100,000 copies of a military edition of "Purpose-Driven Life." And psychologist Greg Smalley -- son of popular author Gary Smalley -- led a marriage conference for 350 couples in mid-November, said chaplain David Trogdon.

Trogdon called Powell's book "another piece of the puzzle" that is helping Fort Campbell's efforts to strengthen families who face separation during wartime and economic pressures.

About 70 of the 225 copies they have received had been distributed by early December, the chaplain said. Many young mothers, Trogdon said, couldn't afford to purchase the book because of tight finances, so they are excited and appreciative to receive "Baby Boot Camp."

"The military is a close family," Trogdon said. "I was in Iraq and when we received goodies or items from people we didn't know, it was exciting to know that people outside the military cared."

Although it carries a retail price of $9.99, "Baby Boot Camp" copies are available for $8 apiece and can be ordered from Powell's Web site, www.rebeccapowell.com.

Thus far, churches or ministries that are participating have had personal ties to Powell, such as her home church, Parkway Baptist in Goodlettsville, Tenn. Parkway has purchased nearly 200 copies to give to all new mothers -- military and non-military -- since its original release three years ago, pastor Jimmy Moore said.

After Powell announced her effort to provide copies to the military, the church donated funds for 20 copies. A women's Sunday school class took up an offering to buy 40 more, Moore said.

"It's so encouraging, helpful and inspiring," Moore said. "My daughter and daughter-in-law had babies right after the book was written and it was so helpful to them. It's well written and a great benefit to new mothers."

At Powell's parents' church, North Knoxville (Tenn.) Baptist, the congregation voted to send 50 copies. Individuals provided 11 more, pastor Guy Milam said.

The church's ties to the military were an added incentive -- one member landed in Baghdad Dec. 8 and another in the National Guard may be deployed soon. "I'm a stickler for helping these young people that are in this situation," Milam said. "This is a door of opportunity to witness."

The mother of three children, ages 7 to 13, Powell has made two trips to Fort Campbell to meet new mothers and hand out books.

One mother she prayed with in November was expecting her fifth child and was caring for her disabled mother-in-law while her husband is in Iraq. "It was wonderful to pray with her and encourage her," Powell said. "I found out later in the day ... [that] her husband is a chaplain. So the Lord ministers to his own. He's got encouragement for everyone."

The demands of the constant care and feeding of an infant can feel overwhelming, Powell said.

"Even though you have nine months to get ready, it's so difficult," Powell said. "You're not expecting to be so fatigued. Being so tired affects the way you view things. Getting over the hump of the first six weeks is so hard because you think it's always going to be this way."

Powell said her goal is to help new mothers look to the Lord for strength and develop a relationship with Christ if they don't already have one.

The book is having an impact -- even in unique ways. One chaplain told her that a single mother had decided against abortion after seeing the cover of her book.

"To be part of someone choosing life, that's awesome," Powell said.


© 2004 Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.