The Wall That Heals, a traveling three-quarter-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, made a stop in Ava, Missouri, last fall while on tour across the U.S.
Missouri governor Mike Parsons was scheduled to speak along with other distinguished guests.
When Mike Opeka, veteran and head elder of the Ava Church, learned that TWTH was coming to Ava, he mobilized the church to get involved. Sixteen of the church’s 80 members are veterans, five of whom served in Vietnam. The church was eager to help, with veteran and civilian members joining together to assist the Douglas County Veterans Memorial Association.
Expectations were low, given the rural location, but attendance and volunteer records were both broken. Over 20,000 visitors came through in just four days, and approximately 110 volunteers made the 24-hours-a-day operation possible.
Terry Wolfe, pastor of the Ava Church and a Vietnam veteran, not only helped with setup and teardown, but also enjoyed serving as a chaplain for attendees seeking counsel and prayer.
During setup, Ava Church deacons Jim Calkins and Raymond Cardwell were honored to carry a large section of the wall inscribed with the names of Calkin’s brother and Cardwell’s Marine companion.
Deaconess Gwyn Downs assisted in making sandwiches for the volunteers. On Sabbath, the church planned for visitors and boxed up meals after fellowship dinner to take to volunteers.
Members Eck and Judy Ulrich organized the photography team for the Douglas County Veterans Memorial Association. Michael Downs used his expertise with drone piloting to capture footage, and Judy was even taken in an airplane with another local photographer to capture the 10-mile-long procession as it began 60 miles away in Lebanon, Missouri. Over 1,000 motorcycles and classic cars participated, breaking another record for TWTH.
After receiving permission from the local Veterans Memorial Association to give away copies of the book about Desmond Doss (Hero of Hacksaw Ridge), the Ava Church stepped out in faith and ordered 5,000 books. Pathfinders and members took shifts in the church’s booth, which was open during daylight hours all four days.
We continue to pray for the seeds planted and for relationships fostered in our community. Pray with us that those who visited The Wall That Heals will come to better know the source of all healing—Jesus Christ.
Connie Opeka is communication director for the Ava Church.
Photos: Eck Ulrich