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PHOTO BY FR. ERIC ALBERTSON  Father Jim Evans and Cheri Lamonte host "Mary's Touch," a half-hour weekly radio program broadcast locally on 970 AM that offers stories of faith and inspiration from listeners who call in.

PHOTO BY FR. ERIC ALBERTSON

Father Jim Evans and Cheri Lamonte host "Mary's Touch," a half-hour weekly radio program broadcast locally on 970 AM that offers stories of faith and inspiration from listeners who call in to the show.

By Dane Anderson
Contributing writer

Cheri Lamonte and Father Jim Evans were no strangers to each other when they embarked on an idea in 2009 to help bring faith to American soldiers in the Middle East and on military bases throughout the world.

Together they co-host “Mary’s Touch,” an award-winning weekly Christian radio program Lamonte founded in 2006 that is broadcast to more than 100 stations across the country. Three years ago, Lamonte was interviewing a listener whose son was in Afghanistan. The woman told the radio host that her son had not seen a chaplain of any faith since his deployment. Chaplains are in short supply in the military, the woman explained.

“That piece of news brought me out of my chair,” Lamonte said. “Can you imagine facing the most difficult, lonely, challenging time of your life without any spiritual support?”

Lamonte, a Lakeway resident and member of Emmaus Catholic Parish, couldn’t get the picture of the struggling soldier out of her mind. She decided to do something about it. Enlisting the help of her friend and associate pastor at Emmaus, Evans, she came up with a plan for Frontline Faith, an outreach program that puts MP3 players loaded with seven hours of religious content into the hands of military men and women looking for spiritual support. During the last two years, Frontline Faith has placed more than 28,000 players.

“The soldiers tell us that they like to have some kind of religious start to their day,” Lamonte said. “A military mother wrote and asked me for more [players] for her son’s small unit. She said that they wear them at night so that they don’t have to listen to what is happening on the other side of the barbed wire.”

It took nine months to make the MP3 players, find the spiritual material, produce it and have it loaded onto the players. Lamonte went to her parish to ask for help funding the project. The first morning, she raised $11,000.

“We understand the many sacrifices that have been made for us,” Lamonte said. “Donating gives people something tangible to do to give back.”

Evans understands well the spiritual crises soldiers can face during active duty. He served four years active duty in the U.S. Air Force in Turkey and later as a chaplain for the National Guard. He jumped into the Frontline Faith mission when Lamonte explained the idea.

“I wanted to do anything I could to help meet the need for spiritual comfort,” Evans said. “It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to get something important to people who wanted it and needed it.”

Based on the feedback he is getting, Evans thinks the project is helping.

“It gives them something they can have with them at any time,” he said. “It is important, not only in times of battles or skirmishes, but also for peacetime forces. I think America will have a continuing need for peacetime forces for some time to come.”

The first players that Frontline Faith produced contained Catholic material. The organization has just finished material for Protestant players and is about to release a CD set for military families at home.

“We still have 90,000 troops in Afghanistan,” Lamonte said. “Sometimes Americans think that the war is over, but there are still many, many troops over there.”

Lamonte, who has a growing family that includes 11 grandchildren, is the author of two books – “The Healing Touch of Mary” and “Stories of Mary’s Touch.” Frontline Faith will soon be publishing its first book, “Drowning in Lemonade – Reflections of an Army Wife” by Lynda MacFarland.

Lamonte is as surprised as anyone by the success of her radio program and Frontline Faith.

“I always used to raise my eyebrows when people said they had a calling,” she said. “Now that I have a calling, I don’t do that any more. You know that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing when everything flows well.”

Thus far, Frontline Faith has been flowing well, but the popularity of the MP3 players has created a demand that is outpacing the organization’s ability to supply them.

“We have more requests than we can fill,” Lamonte said. “We are desperate. We need more players.”

The duo is hoping that funding will come in to continue the program. A donation of $24 can pay for the manufacturing, programming and shipping of one MP3 player.

“If you give up that cup of coffee for two weeks, you could put a player in the hands of someone who needs it,” Lamonte said.

“Mary’s Touch” is broadcast locally on 970 AM at 6 p.m. Saturdays and 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Sundays.

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