Gil Hanke (left), top staff executive of the General Commission on UM Men, presents Larry Coppock, director of the Strength for Service Fund, and LW Smith, chair of the Strength for Service Task Force with life memberships in UM Men. Dan Ramsey (right), president of the National Association of Conference Presidents, notes the important role these two men played in restoring a World War II book of daily devotions, creating a new book for first responders, and establishing a non-denominational board of directors.
A six-chapter story
NASHVILLE, Tenn.––A Catholic Boy Scout’s effort to republish a World War II book of daily devotions and expanded by a United Methodist group, has become a non-denominational ministry to all who give their lives in service to others.
On February 6, Internal Revenue Service officially granted Strength for Service, Inc., status as a 501(c) (3) “public charity.” Contributions to the organization are now deductible under section 170 of the IRS code.
The remarkable history of Strength for Service began in 1942.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war, the Methodist Publishing House wanted to do something to support the thousands of young people enlisting in the Armed Services.
The Nashville-based publishing agency asked Norman Nygaard, a World War I Army chaplain, to recruit 365 church leaders of all denominations to write one-page devotions for each day of the year.
The result was the publication of Strength for Service to God and Country, a pocket-sized book of daily devotions distributed to more than 1million military troops before it went out of print following the 1953 Korean armistice.
Eugene Hunsberger, corpsman in the U.S. Navy, received a copy of Strength for Service to God and Country while serving in World War II.
He not only read daily devotions for his own spiritual enrichment, but when words failed him, he would read sections of the book to sailors after attending to their wounds. He kept the book during his service in Korea.
Following his discharge, Eugene read the book to his Scout troop at meetings and camp outs.
In his later years, he carried the book in his breast pocket to read to folks in the hospital as a volunteer guild member.
In 1998, Evan Hunsberger, the grandson of Eugene, noticed a tattered copy of the book of daily devotions on the bedside of his grandfather.
In need of an Eagle Scout project, Evan asked his grandfather if it would be a good idea to republish the book as his Eagle project. He thought he could provide copies to Camp Pendleton, the Long Beach Naval Station, and other military installations near their Orange County California home.
“That’s not a good idea,” said Eugene. “That’s a great idea.”
The General Commission on United Methodist Men, the agency responsible for scouting ministries, helped Evan secure the publishing rights from the United Methodist Publishing House, and they assisted in adding 50 meditations from contemporary religious leaders to create a second edition of Strength for Service to God and Country.
The commission received the support of the Pentagon and launched a fund-raising campaign resulting in the publication and distribution of 480,000 copies of the updated book.
While distributing most of the 400-page book to military chaplains to give to their troops, some of the copies were also given to fire fighters and police officers. While these public servants were grateful, they were aware the meditations were written for the military. They asked if a volume could be written for them.
In 2013, the commission created Strength for Service to God and Community, a 365-page book of daily devotions for first responders and all those in the service of others.
The commission also established the Eugene A. Hunsberger Strength For Service Endowment Fund at the United Methodist Church Foundation.
Noting that the book is designed for Christians from all denominations, the commission created a non-denominational board of directors and secured non-profit status from Internal Revenue Service.
The new board is now soliciting funds to publish both books and making proposals to various foundations to establish a permanent office and a professional staff. Board members want to ensure that the original book will never again go out of print, and that similar spiritual resources will be available to others.
The story begun in 1942, reintroduced in 2000 and expanded in 2013, has become a promise to future generations.