Common wounds and injuries can range from loss of a limb and brain injuries to more invisible injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Wounded and injured veterans and active military personnel are selected for the program through a military and private network referral process. Once referred, eligible participants then complete an application.

Throughout the week-long camp experience, couples will participate in marriage enrichment classes, devotions and recreational activities ranging from bear watching and hiking to fishing and kayaking.

In addition to Walker, another individual on staff who has a key part in the program by leading devotions, teaching marriage resiliency workshops, counseling and leading worship is Captain James Fisher, who is acting as the program’s chaplain. Additionally, Mark and Sandy Lang are serving as the program manager and facilities manager. There will also be a diverse team of individuals in place on-site, including staff and volunteers.

“Samaritan’s Purse wants to affirm and encourage military marriages. We saw the need to provide tools for resiliency, which is providing inner, personal and spiritual strength and flexibility, in order to maintain longevity in marriages,” said Captain James Fisher, who also served as a chaplain in the U.S. Military for over 30 years. (He has served posts with the Air Force Reserve, the Coast Guard, the Marines and the Navy.)

He said another goal for the program is to help these young warriors and their spouses to engage God. In Alaska, it’s a gorgeous setting. For most, they haven’t been there before and they probably won’t experience anything like this again.

“When you place yourself in that setting of splendor and you see the glory of God’s creation, in all its wonder, with the mountains, water, sky and all of its beauty, it forces an individual to say, ‘Wow, God truly is the God of creation, God truly is a God of design.’ And they ask the question, ‘Where do I fit into that?’“

Finally, the program serves as a token of appreciation and grateful thanks for the service that these men and women, their spouses and families have given for our nation.

“What I am most excited about is the fact that my wife, Lori, and I are going to be firsthand involved in being a spiritual guide for people as they begin a new direction in their lives,” Fisher said.

The summer is booked with 86 couples, who have already registered to attend this year from late June to mid-September. Next year, the program will begin in late May and enroll about 155 couples. Guests will typically arrive on Sunday and stay through Friday night or Saturday morning. The cost is covered by Samaritan’s Purse and is free to participants. It is made possible through donations from those who partner with Samaritan’s Purse.

Couples stay in their own personal cabins, with amenities that include a queen-size bed, a full bath with provided toiletries, hot and cold running water, heat, and daily housekeeping service. All cabins and main buildings are within short distance of each other, and are interconnected by boardwalks to ensure that all lodge facilities are fully accessible.

Samaritan Lodge Alaska sits on five acres of lakefront property on the protected shores of Hardenburg Bay, in the southwestern portion of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. One of the deepest lakes in Alaska, Lake Clark spans 42 miles, surrounded by the Alaskan wild. It is located 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The Samaritan Lodge Alaska retreat center has more than 25 buildings, including cabins, a fitness facility, and a full-service community dining hall and a lunch café. Meals are prepared each day by an on-site chef.

There will be a grand opening ceremony held on June 21. About 200 people are expected to attend. The governor of Alaska, Sean Parnell, will preside. In addition to Dr. Franklin Graham, Walker and Fisher, other honored guests will include local and regional officials, including the head of the National Park Service for Alaska, among others. For more information, or to donate to Operation Heal Our Patriots, visit www.samaritanspurse.org or http://www.samaritanspurse.org/patriots/.

Ginny McCabe is an author, feature and entertainment writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. You may email her at gmwriteon@aol.com, or visit http://www.gmwriteon.com/.

Publication date: May 27, 2012