(UMNS) The only phone card Sgt. 1st Class John Brian Gregory can use that is not blocked by the Afghanistan government is the one featuring the United Methodist Church's Cross and Flame.
Gregory is "way out in the boonies" at Camp Salerno in Khost, Afghanistan, and he tells his wife Nina that the only way he can afford to call home is with a little plastic card sent to him by United Methodists in the United States.
"Just to hear his voice every few weeks makes all the difference in the world," says Nina. The Gregory's two children, Tia, 15, and Nick, 12, get to hear straight from their dad that he is okay and that's "pretty cool," according to Nina.
Since Veteran's Day 2003, United Methodists have donated more than 9 million minutes of free phone calls to service men and women working in harm's way in war zones around the world.
The United Methodist Endorsing Agency, Board of Higher Education and Ministry, started the phone card campaign to help military families stay in touch with each other. United Methodist Communications teamed with the endorsing agency in 2004 to design cards featuring the United Methodist Cross and Flame and the message "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. The people of the United Methodist Church."
When soldiers use the cards they hear a recorded prayer: "The people of the United Methodist Church are praying for your safety and sense of peace. Our hearts, our minds and our doors are always open to you." The United Methodist phone cards cost $4.95 for 120 minutes.
The endorsing agency gives the cards to United Methodist chaplains who then distribute them to any military person in need.
Beaver Falls United Methodist Church has been sending packages to Gregory since he deployed Feb. 10. Nina says somehow one of the United Methodist calling cards got in a package to her husband.
"What a light, that the United Methodist cards would work and are the only cards the Afghanistan government doesn't block," Nina says. "It is an amazing program."
Gregory is part of the D-Co/1-32 from Fort Drum. His company is based in the mountains of Afghanistan. The camp is so remote that he is not able to send email and phone calls are hard to make. "Unfortunately there have been a lot of deaths in his company and when that happens they shut down communication," Nina explains.
Gregory is scheduled to be back home by the end of January.
"You can't know how grateful the families are when they get to hear them (loved ones)," Nina says. "You can know they are okay but to actually hear their voices is just so precious."
The phone card campaign is ongoing. Because of limited personnel, the agency does not have the ability to sell phone cards to congregations or individuals. For more information on how to participate, contact the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, Board of Higher Education and Ministry, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007. The agency also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (615) 340-7411. The Web site for the agency is www.gbhem.org.