In 2015, Colleen Matthews discovered her life’s purpose that combines her Christian faith and military spouse community. IF:Military was her brainchild and now reaches thousands of women all over the world.
It all began when Matthews attended her first IF:Local event, a small, intimate gathering of Christian women who watch the annual broadcast of a large IF: event. In that experience with IF:, Matthews felt something stirring. A few years later, she’s working with military spouses around the world.
When Matthews, who is a proud Army wife of over 10 years, thinks back to that first IF: experience, she remembers being captivated by its purpose and vision.
“We can’t live in community by ourselves, and the IF: resources give us simple, practical and engaging tools to make it happen,” she said.
After that first IF:Local event, she jumped into the community and attended the inaugural IF:Lead, a symposium of women who train to be leaders within the organization.
In September 2015, Matthews joined the women in Orlando, Fla., for IF:Lead and was asked to write her name and where she was from on her name tag.
“We had just PCSed from Georgia to Virginia, so neither felt like home,” she remembered. “And we would only be in Virginia for nine months for a school, and, in true military form, we didn’t know where we were going next.”
As many military spouses have felt throughout their own adventures, she didn’t really know where she belonged.
“So, on a whim, I wrote ‘IF:Army,’” Matthew said.
The idea was born. Her name tag was the topic of many conversations with women who were military spouses or who knew some.
“I was very well aware that if I felt this way, there had to be other women who also felt a loss of belonging,” she said. “That weekend God planted in me a dream, which is now IF:Military.”
IF:Military is not exclusive to a single type of service with military. It’s for women associated with active duty, National Guard, reservists, veterans and spouses of all who have or are serving. It’s a community where anyone can belong, even if they are constantly being uprooted by the military.
“Military women face a variety of issues that impact our faith,” Matthews explained. They range from loneliness to feelings of abandonment and the need to be strong when facing separations, addictions, abuse or infidelity.
“A central theme in our lives is the constant change of location and community,” Matthews said.
IF:Military officially launched in September 2018 when leadership met again for IF:Lead. Three years after the idea was planted in Matthews’ heart, she saw it come to fruition with her military sisters beside her.
Now there are eight branch coaches and over 35 points of contact for each local arm of IF:Military. It spans 29 states, six countries and has over 1,700 members in its Facebook community. In February 2019 after the annual IF:Gathering event, there were more military women who joined the group. Plus, there were over 50 IF:Military one-day events held in March 2019.
“We’re hoping to add branch coaches for the Guard and reserves and POCs for every major installation,” Matthews said. And she’s not stopping there.
“On the dream board is a discipleship program for retired and active duty women, and an IF:Military Gathering including speakers who are also military affiliated.”
Matthews says that community is central to both Christian and military lifestyles, and IF:Military is a culmination of the two.
“As a military spouse, life isn’t easy. But what makes it better?” Matthews asked. “It’s the friends and the community I’m able to build every two, or one, years that we PCS.”
The kind of friendships that don’t require explaining everything; the ones that don’t take months to develop, she says, because people don’t have time. The ones people miss even after being together for only a year.
“The beauty of IF:Military is the blending the military and the mission behind IF:. It takes a bunch of broken but strong women, and gives them tools to grow and live life together, wherever that might be,” Matthews said.