Holy Joe's coffee -- two truckloads -- arrives at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for ministry to personnel deployed overseas and to returning soldiers.
Photo courtesy US military.
by Eric Anderson
WALLINGFORD (06/08/2012) -- Although the United States plans to withdraw a good number of combat troops from Afghanistan over the next three years, a substantial number of soldiers, sailors, air crew, and Marines will remain for some time. About 85,000 US service personnel are now deployed in Afghanistan, says Tom Jastermsky, coordinator of the Holy Joe's Coffee Project for the First Congregational Church UCC of Wallingford. His goal is to aid military chaplains as they provide spiritual care and comfort to those in harm's way -- and increasingly, to help returning veterans adjust to civilian life.
Now beginning its seventh year, Holy Joe's does something deceptively simple: they provide coffee, that staple beverage of local church coffee hours, to US military chaplains. On a base far from home, a hot "cup of Joe" becomes many more things when offered by a chaplain: it is a precious moment of relaxation and decompression; it is a reviving drink for those scarce of sleep; it is an invitation to a soul-reviving conversation; it is a reminder that, somewhere back home, people care.
"Our goal is to provide that support, that mechanism, that connection," says Jastermsky. A quarter of a million people drink Holy Joe's coffee every day.
How You Can Help
Holy Joe’s suggests that you go to the "Percolator Coffees" page and order Fellowship Blend, but they are happy to receive any coffee you choose.
Under "Choose the Shipping Address," be sure to enter the following:
(first name) Holy Joe’s
Under "Customer ID" please enter your church’s ID if you know it. If you don’t know it, or if you have never ordered with Equal Exchange before, please enter "IRAQ001."
Under "Congregation or Organization" you may enter your church’s name or, if you or ordering individually, "UCC Individual."
If your church has a tax-exempt number, we appreciate receiving it, bit it’s not necessary to process the order.
Another way to support Holy Joe's Cafe is to collect an offering to contribute to have Holy Joe's send coffee directly.
Overseas chaplains serve Holy Joe's coffee -- donated by local churches, individuals, and businesses -- in hospital wards, in chapels, and in designated gathering places frequently known as "Holy Joe's Cafes." The program has expanded dramatically. In February 2011, they supported 75 locations. Today, over 900 chaplains enjoy the aid of this ministry.
Among them is UCC clergywoman the Rev. Beth Stallinga, a US Navy chaplain based at Camp Leatherneck in northeastern Afghanistan. On her third deployment, she is a "forward chaplain," venturing from the main base to more remote outposts. When she goes, she packs ground coffee from Holy Joe's donations to bring with her.
The Holy Joe's project has proudly raised the visibility -- and the faith commitments -- of the United Church of Christ. Rev. Stallinga has told Jastermsky that when she comes around with her coffee, people will say to her, "Hey, you're the UCC guys!"
"They all know about the UCC because our ministry is unique," says Jastermsky, "and that's really great... No strings attached, come as you are. And we have a great message, that God is Still Speaking."
A major source of the ministry's growth has been at the request of chaplains returning home from war. "We've been asked by a lot of the chaplains if we would have any extra coffee," Jastermsky reports, "because the ministry was so effective over there, that they wanted to continue it and keep the unit cohesion going." Chaplains are even more needed now, he says, to help service people return to their homes and families from lengthy and stressful deployments.
They also minister to those whose lives have been dramatically changed by the tragedies of war: those struggling to recover from wounds of the body, mind, and spirit. The Rev. Andrew Sholtes, a UCC minister and US Navy chaplain who spent 279 days at the Kandahar Air Base in southern Afghanistan, continues to employ Holy Joe's coffee as a spiritual gift as he serves wounded veterans and their families at the San Diego Naval Hospital in California.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has been a major contributor to the project, donating 375 pallets -- over 260,000 pounds -- of "K-Cups" for single cup brewers in the last month. Ground coffee, however, comes mostly through gifts from local churches and individual members, and can be used in the 100-cup urns of a chapel or in a small percolator of a forward base.
Tom Jastermsky (l.) with the Rev. Dean Warburton, pastor of First Congregational Church UCC of Wallingford, accepting an Imagine What's Possible Award for the Holy Joe's ministry at General Synod 28 in July 2011.
Photo by Eric Anderson
Holy Joe's and the UCC Coffee Project have, together, ministered both to service members and to coffee farmers. The Equal Exchange products, part of the Fair Trade movement, deliver more of the purchase price to the small farmers who produce it. Much of it flows through warehouse space donated by Cooper Atkins in Middlefield -- their CEO, Carol Wallace, is a member of First Church in Wallingford -- a significant gift, as the volume has tripled just in the last year.
"I truly believe that the deepest desire for every human being is acceptance," said Sholtes in an interview last November. "One of the most powerful Christian ministries we can provide to people is to provide that acceptance, [so] that people will feel that regardless of their life, regardless of their sins, regardless of their origin or culture or whatever, they are accepted."
"We started in 2006 on Pentecost Sunday," recalls Jastermsky, when they received word that a chaplain in Baghdad ran out of coffee. "And you look at the different miracles, and I always say, 'the Lord has need of it.'"
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is Minister of Communications and Technology for the Connecticut Conference UCC.