Chaplain William "Spence" '96 and Heidi Raass '97 Spencer - 2011 Young Alum Award Recipients

William and Heidi Spencer received this year’s Distinguished Young Alum Award for demonstrating outstanding grace and service to the U.S. armed forces and families with special needs children.

In 1995, God began tugging on Spence’s heartstrings during a spring mission trip to Jamaica. When he returned to campus in the fall, it was with a new passion for ministry, and his testimony during a campus event on Reasoner Green attracted Heidi’s attention. Spence changed his major to Bible and theology, staying an extra year to finish the extra classes, and the couple was married a month after graduating in 1997.

After finishing his master of divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary, Spence spent several years ministering to youth and their families. As the years passed, however, he grew restless in church ministry and felt increasingly drawn to the military community where he served as a reserve chaplain in the Air Force. After much prayer, he and Heidi made the decision to commit their young family to full-time chaplaincy.

They were packing their belongings to move to their first duty station when they found out their second child would have Downs Syndrome. The couple began a difficult journey that day, but they turned their struggles into a platform of ministry to families in both military and civilian worlds.

While stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, Spence began an outreach mission to young adults and families. Every Sunday evening, he led a service on base that included worship, teaching and a shared meal. Heidi served as the director of special needs ministries at Fairhaven Church in Ohio, recruiting “buddies” for special needs children to help them navigate their activities and classes, beginning a support group for mothers, helping to make the facilities more handicap-accessible and establishing a annual Easter Egg Hunt designed for children with special needs and their siblings.

Since then, the compassion for family struggles Spence has experienced in his own life has become a natural part of his ministry, whether on base or on deployment. Praying with the troops before patrols, holding Bible studies, counseling airmen on managing long-distance relationships — each facet of life and ministry has integrated to share God’s love in practical ways.

He earned the “Company Grade Chaplain of the Year” for Air Force Materiel Command in 2009.

Last summer the Spencer’s moved to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Heidi leads a program for mothers of preschoolers on base, and Spence is the senior Protestant chaplain. The unique demands of their callings to their community and family mean each day brings new challenges, but they remain content in the safest place they know: God’s hands.