“Is it possible for my soul to die?” the veteran, who has clear battle wounds on the outside, asks. “Because I look inside and I don’t see anything anymore.”
How would you respond to that? For occupational therapist and Christian Dr. Jenny Owens, the response was to start a ministry. Together with her husband, Evan, they founded REBOOT Combat Recovery.
“REBOOT exists to help heal what is called a spiritual wound,” says Evan, who quit his job leading a tech company to help start this unique organization. “About seven years ago, we began studying, and writing on, and ultimaly leading a group from this idea that a person is made up of mind, body and soul.
“Was it possible that a person’s soul could be wounded, and if so, what would be the symptoms of a wounded soul? And most importantly, what would the treatment of a wounded soul be?”
Jenny was already actively working in her specialty—traumatic brain injuries—and she was being hit with a ton of questions from her patients, who included servicemen and women returning from war. She was also seeing some patterns.
They began a small group in their home once a week, gathering with former patients, as well as veterans from their neighborhood and their church, who were suffering from a variety of physical and mental health issues. Many were being actively treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and nothing was working.
“We just wanted to have a conversation about soul wounds,” Evan recalls.
That conversation led to some real breakthroughs, and soon the word spread. Their group was filling up, and experts from nearby Fort Campbell army base in Kentucky were also seeing results. The on-base medical professionals—not the chaplains—called the Owenses, asking to bring their program to the base. Evan says with a laugh that their response was, “We don’t have a program—it’s called coming to Evan and Jen’s house on Monday night.”
Certain that they were on a larger mission, the couple started a new group on base and developed the REBOOT curriculum. Since that foundation in 2015, more veterans and military installations have contacted them—and REBOOT just celebrated the establishment of group No. 50.
How It Works
REBOOT groups gather in churches, community centers and even businesses, both on and off bases. They normally begin with a group meal.
“You’re going to really build community, and reconnect with people who have been through similar life circumstances,” Evan says, adding that this peer-to-peer component is critical. At REBOOT, you’ll find people “who can look you in the eye and say, ‘I have lived through it and I’ve learned from it. Now let’s lead one another out of it,’” he says.
For 12 weeks, each group will gather and be led trough times of discussion by a REBOOT trained leader. Groups consist of both service members and their spouses.
“At the end of the session you’re going to be given a weekly challenge,” Evan says. “It’s kind of like homework, but it’s more more practical than that.” These exercises are designed to help heal soul wounds and rebuild broken relationships.
REBOOT is Christian-faith-based at its core, but Evan says you don’t have to have any faith to participate.
“The vast majority of people who come through REBOOT groups are not actively engaged in their faith in any way,” he says. “They may have had it at one time, but it’s not part of the picture of who they are now.”
Evan says that many of the participants have objections, but they soon begin to discover biblical truth.
“If we’re talking about grief, we’re using the story of Lazarus,” he says. “If we’re talking about pride and isolation, we’re talking about Samson and David. We talk about how important and critical forgiveness is. The Bible is really intertwined consistently, but we’re really talking about practical life skills”
Evan says that not everyone comes to faith in Christ through REBOOT’s process, but many do. Ultimately, the goal of REBOOT is to bring scriptural healing to people who are desperate for a solution. Often, REBOOT is their final hope.
Who It Helps
The greatest measure of any recovery ministry is the lives that are changed. Evan says that they have dozens of stories, but one early REBOOT graduate is Brian. He grew up in poverty in South Bend, Indiana, and joined the military as a way out.
Brian got married quickly, and he and his wife were blessed with a baby girl not long after that. Their daughter was diagnosed with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly, just before they were to be deployed to Germany. Brian didn’t know how to cope with the stress and turned to alcohol.
This became a toxic combination when his unit was sent to Afghanistan. Things got worse when Brian was injured on a mission, and on the way back to base his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED). He came back to the U.S. and was stationed at Fort Campbell. This young soldier had a variety of issues and was on more than 20 medications. Nothing seemed to ease his pain.
Brian saw only one way out. He sent his family home to Indiana and intended to take his life. He downed two bottles of pills and lay down in his bunk. A new soldier in the barracks, who was looking for someone to play video games with, found Brian convulsing. He provided first aid and saved Brian’s life.
“Three weeks later I ran into Brian outside the clinic, while bringing Jenny some lunch,” Evan recalls. “He saw my REBOOT shirt and asked me what it was about.” Brian attended and graduated REBOOT, restored his life and marriage, and is now on staff with REBOOT. “He is one of the most powerful leaders I have ever seen,” Evan says. “He’s a life-changer.”
Not everyone is like Brian. It sometimes takes more than one 12-week cycle for a person to make a significant recovery. But amazingly, out of more than 2,000 REBOOT graduates, none have died by suicide. Evan credits this to God.
How Churches Can Get Involved
REBOOT is always looking to open more groups because there are so many veterans across the country who are in need. The ministry also wants to help churches identify veterans who might need their services.
Evan says that a person will not simply announce they have PTSD or a soul wound in a church setting. Churches need to be aware of the “roots and fruits”—that’s what he calls warning signs like depression, substance abuse and violent outbursts.
The program does not require any special degree because it relies on peer-to-peer connections. They also connect groups to local graduates and provide online training.
“That is one of the single greatest things that we offer,” Evan says. “We empower everyday people like me and you to have a voice to help the traumatized.”
Jeff Chaves is a freelance writer and pastor. He has been married to Peggy for more than 32 years, and they have four children. He is the pastor of Northpointe Community Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.