It’s often said there is no such thing as coincidence – rather, it is the hand of God at work. That certainly seems to be the case with two sons of the Diocese of Allentown who met for the first time due to their military deployment, and followed their faith to become extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.
The two young men are SPC (Specialist) Bobby George, son of Von and Jane George; and SPC Jake Moyer, son of Valerie Moyer. The soldiers joined the Virginia Army National Guard and met while preparing to deploy to Qatar.
Von George said his son and Jake met in Bedford, Virginia after being raised in Allentown, attending St. Thomas More Parish, Allentown and graduating from Parkland High School, Orefield without knowing each other in their home state.
“A deployment brought them together and the faith has sustained these two soldiers,” Von George said. “Both have become extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist while deployed.”
The soldiers left Fort Bliss, Texas in summer 2016 and will return home soon. Bobby will resume his college studies at Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia. Jake will start U.S. Army Ranger School. Jake graduated from Virginia Military Institute, as did Father Christopher Butera, military chaplain, now director of the Newman Center and Catholic chaplain at Lehigh University, Bethlehem.
Bobby George noted both Hampden-Sydney College and Virginia Military Institute “separate themselves from most institutions of higher learning with student-run honor codes.”
“With God in the desert” is how Valerie Moyer described the soldier’s experience.
“I see God’s fingerprints all over the military deployment of Jake Moyer and Bobby George,” Valerie Moyer said.
She said about a year ago, Jake and Bobby discovered each other among 400 Army National Guard (ARNG) soldiers and their families at a military predeployment gathering in Virginia. They had been students at different Virginia colleges and each belonged to different –VA ARNG Units.
In conversation they discovered that they were both from Pennsylvania – Allentown to be specific. They went on to discover they had attended the same high school – Parkland – and been members of the same parish – St. Thomas More. “What a ‘coincidence,’” Valerie Moyer said.
“A few weeks later, on the day they reported for the actual deployment, I was so happy to see Bobby’s smiling face as he ran to us from the building, in the rain, to help Jake carry all his gear from the car. It was sad separating from Jake, but reassuring to know he would be heading off alongside someone from home.
“After dropping Jake off, while on my way home, I stopped for coffee at a McDonald’s in Bedford, Virginia and saw a face that looked familiar. Could it be? I struck up a conversation and learned the faced belonged to Von George, Bobby’s dad. He introduced me to his wife, Jane. We chatted about the coincidence of our sons discovering each other, and then the further coincidence of our own discovering of each other.
“We exchanged contact info and vowed to stay in touch and to pray for each other’s sons.
“After they arrived in Qatar, we learned that Bobby and Jake were assigned to be roommates. We shared the names of the soldiers in their squad and had our friends and families pray for them during the deployment. How powerful those prayers turned out to be.
“Not only were our sons united, but Jane and Von and I were together on many occasions. We attended a Mary’s Shelter fundraising event together. The Georges invited me to share their table at the St. Thomas More Anniversary Gala. They also invited me to place wreaths on the graves of veterans buried at Resurrection Cemetery as part of the Wreaths Across America program.”
Valerie Moyer said the Georges have also showed their support of VAST, an anti-human trafficking coalition, in which she is involved.
“We had fun sending care packages to several of the soldiers,” said Valerie Moyer. “For Christmas I sent Bobby a selection of cigars when I learned their family had a spiritual tradition of celebrating First Holy Communions with cigars. Bobby sent me the book ‘A Man for Others: A Biography of St. Maximillian Kolbe’ with a note saying he hoped I enjoyed it as much as he did.
“I was so impressed that he had read such a book that I read it that weekend and was so inspired, that I have been sharing it with family and friends ever since.
“We parents were thrilled to learn that Bobby’s and Jake’s first sergeant had made a point of relieving them of duty so they could get to Sunday Mass as often as possible.”
She sent the sergeant a copy of the book “Jesus Calling” with a thank-you note for looking out for them “spiritually.”
“Then, things got even better when we learned that both of them had been asked to become extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist,” said Valerie Moyer.
“Coincidentally (?), I was asked to become an extraordinary minister around the same time. Jake and I discovered that we both served as extraordinary ministers at our local Ash Wednesday Mass.”
Valerie Moyer said Sandy is a feral cat who lived at one of the remote outposts in the desert. “His mission was ‘rodent control,’” she said. “Jake is like St. Francis in that he has a heart for animals. He befriended Sandy and the transformational impact of that bond is quite evident.”
“I was concerned that Jake’s generosity toward Sandy might jeopardize Sandy’s career, but Jake assured me of Sandy’s job security,” she said, noting Sandy’s mission is lifelong.
Valerie Moyer said Jake expects to return home to Allentown by the end of March and looks forward to attending Stations of the Cross and the sacrament of confession during Lent. Within a few days of arriving home, he will travel to Atlanta, Georgia to serve as a godparent for the new daughter of his college roommate from the Virginia Military Institute.
“The spirit is on the move in these men,” she said.
“To me, it is quite clear that God has honored all our prayers and has been very close to Bobby and Jake during their time in the desert. There they learned to trust him, to lean on him and to serve him. As a result they have grown in the character of Christ. I couldn’t be more grateful.
“As Jake heads off to Army Ranger School at the end of April, and Bobby heads back to Hampton-Sydney College, I ask for prayers on their behalf from everyone who reads this story. I look forward to seeing how God will use them in his service in the future. God is so good.”
“It was always reassuring to have someone with whom to discuss the small things missed from home, like Yocco’s Hot Dogs or Mayfair,” said Bobby George. “However, it was our connection of St. Thomas where we truly shared a past.
“Our first sergeant had heard our interest in attending Mass and personally helped us receive time to attend. We began making a habit of attending, and when asked to help deliver the Eucharist we were more than happy to help.”
“Knowing that Bobby and Jake were keeping the faith while deployed was a blessing. We’re blessed with their return to Fort Bliss, Texas and soon back home to Pennsylvania,” said Von George.
Von George said in a “universally Catholic effort,” St. Joseph the Worker, Orefield; St. Thomas More; and St. John Ukrainian Catholic Church, Northampton, “all pooled time, talent and treasure to send beaucoup care packages” to Bobby’s unit.
Andrea Kochan Neagle of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, said parishioners collected food, clothing and personal hygiene items Oct. 1-17, 2016 to send to Bobby’s unit stationed in the Middle East.
The children in the parish’s religious education program sorted all the items Oct. 18 and packed over 25 packages for the soldiers.
“We included a letter in each box written by the students,” said Neagle, who is executive director of Design IP, Intellectual Property Law, Allentown.
“Two summers ago I had the pleasure of briefly interning with Design IP in Allentown,” said Bobby George. “The Nagles were constantly helping me for a hopeful future in law. Their church kindly put together many packages for our platoon. The packages were greatly appreciated.”
Neagle said several of the parish’s children involved in this project attend Diocese of Allentown schools: Elizabeth Schock, attending Notre Dame of Bethlehem; Alexandra Serencits, Good Shepherd Regional School, Northampton; and Elizabeth, Catherine and Alexander Neagle, St. Joseph the Worker School.
In addition, St. John’s parishioner Tania Kulischenko, a math teacher at St. Thomas More School, collected six large boxes of donations from her students.
“It was a beautiful evening of service with families who have strong ties to both the Diocese of Allentown and the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia – both the lungs of the church working together to support Bobby and his colleagues,” Neagle said.