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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas in North Carolina

Christmas Memories 2013

Notice the famous Olympus 2nd Ward
snowflakes in the window.
Our amaryllis bloomed on Christmas
Day.  What a treat

Cards from friends and family.
Not a great picture, but the small tree
is made of baby food jars.and tree
lights.  It was given to us by one of
the members who wanted to make
sure we had a tree.

We see mistletoe all over.  The traditional
way for Southerners to gather it is by
shooting it out of the tree with a rifle
or shotgun.

We were invited to spend Christmas Eve with some ward members with young children.  One woman's husband is currently deployed to Spain and the other woman's husband just returned from Afghanistan.  There were 4 children between the two families--ages 6, 4, 2, and 1.  After a fabulous dinner, one of the mothers used a "Candle Nativity" to retell the story of the First Christmas.  As she read the verses from Luke 2 she lit the appropriate candles and we sang various carols to go along with the verses.  The blue candles represent Mary and Joseph; the short white candle, the baby Jesus; the tall white candle, the angel; the 3 green short candles on the right, the shepherds; and the 3 purple ones on the left, the wise men.  The kids were mesmerized and really "got" the story and retold it several times afterwards.  At the end, all the candles were blown out (the kids helped and LOVED this part) except the candle representing Jesus.  I thought this was a wonderful way to share the story of Christmas and made the evening very special.

The Jacksonville 12

Our Jacksonville 12 (missionaries) traveled to Fayetteville for a Christmas Zone Conference.  There were about 100 missionaries there and you haven't heard singing until you hear that many missionaries singing with gusto.  We had training in the morning and then a musical program put on by the missionaries themselves after lunch.  The Stake Relief Societies in Fayetteville prepared a delicious Christmas feast for us all. New from the last district missionary photo--2nd from the left, top row is our new district leader, Elder Roberts; bottom row, 2nd from the right is Sister Fowler, a newbie from Conway, Arkansas.  I've got to remember to take off my glasses when we take pictures outside.

Hopefully, when you click on this video you will see our zone singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" complete with actions ala President Bernheisel.  It was hilarious.

Christmas Breakfast Chef

This is a somewhat contrived picture, but I keep forgetting to take pictures when things are really happening.  Bob and Elder Abney were in charge of the breakfast burrito/omelette bar at the Christmas morning breakfast at the ward.  The sisters were responsible for a waffle bar.  In addition, there was juice, cinnamon rolls, and clementines.  Actually, I use the term "juice" somewhat loosely.  We asked the young elders to bring juice and they brought fruit punch and Sunny-D and were delighted when some was left for them to take back to their apartments.  In addition to the missionaries from both wards, we had about 10 Marines that were not able to go home for the holidays.  After breakfast (and, of course, some basketball shoot around) we played a table game.  On the tables we had piles of all different kinds of candy (Warheads, Twix, Peanut M&Ms, etc.) and a pair of dice.  When a person rolled a 7 or 11 or doubles he/she got to choose one of the candies.  The next person who won could either choose a new candy or take one from someone else.  It got pretty heated with the Peanut M&Ms, but a good time was had by all and everyone went home with some of their favorites.  We even had two Marines we had never met wander in asking if there were church services on Christmas (they had seen the cars) and they stayed for breakfast and we got their contact information.  One of them was from Tremonten, Utah.

During December we tried to visit each family with a deployed Marine and took them a little gift and made certain they had someplace to go or someone to spend Christmas with.

The "snowman" is really a Hershey candy bar and the CD of Christmas music was provided by my daughter, Shannon, who sent us several copies to hand out.

We were able to make special arrangements to take Marines in training at Camp Johnson off-base to attend the YSA Christmas dinner at the ward.  The Marines enjoyed being in a non military, more informal setting, and, like most young men, they loved eating the home-cooked food. We hold Sunday services and Family Home Evening on Monday nights in the chapel on base, but we like to bring the Marines into some special activities at the ward when we can.

 4 of our Marines at Camp Johnson graduated on the 20th of December.  The two Marines on the right in the first picture are ours. The one with his back to the camera in the other photo placed second in his class and is receiving special recognition. (It is hard to take pictures from the back of the room).  All three of these Marines were reservists and will be going back to their home towns.  The other Marine, we did not get a picture of, but he will be going to Camp Pendleton. We will miss these young men and hope they will do well in whatever comes next.  We have several new Marines coming to Camp Johnson after the first of the year and we look forward to getting to know them.

As we have noted before, as senior missionaries we don't get transferred to new areas like the young missionaries, but those we work with move on after training and so it is just as hard.  You become so attached to them and then they leave for a new assignment.

One of our newest members with Sister Bush and Sister Fowler. 

We had 3 baptisms in our district in December.  It has been so awesome to see the changes that have taken place in the lives of those who were baptized and the happiness they radiate.  

The Addiction Recovery Program is going well.  We will be doing presentations in adult classes at church soon explaining what the program is about and who might benefit from it.  We have had some referrals from the local bishops already. We would like to have a group for wives and/or family members affected by addiction, but we are not there yet.  We went with the J3 sister  missionaries this week to visit a mother and her adult son. The mother is trying to quit smoking so she can be baptized (hence, why we were invited along).  She is a very caring person who has had a lot of challenges and heartaches in her life. I hope something that we shared may be of help to her. 

The Last Judgement
Before I close this blog I wanted to tell you about our Open House at the chapel earlier in December.  We had about 50 attend and it went very well.  A lot of work went into the preparation and a lot of ward members helped out.  We took small groups of 10 or less on a tour beginning in the Primary room where they were greeted and one of the bishopric explained that this is the room where young children are taught about Heavenly Father and Jesus.  A group of Primary aged children sang "I Am a Child of God" and "If the Savior Walked Beside Me." Then the group went to the baptismal font where two of the elders talked about the covenant we make at baptism.  The tour included brief stops at the Family History Library, the Scout Room (where the scouts had set up a tent and a very realistic looking fake fire) and the room where early morning seminary and teen classes are held.  In the Relief Society room were pictures of the temple and Elder Abney explained why these are sacred buildings and answered questions.  In the foyer other missionaries talked about some of the art work on the walls and how they relate to our belief in Jesus Christ.  In the chapel proper the bishop spoke briefly about the sacrament and what that means to Latter Day Saints.  In the other foyer, Bob and I talked about the art work there.  The picture above was one of ours to talk about.  It is a reproduction of the painting of the Last Judgement that hangs in the Washington DC temple.  I learned several things about the painting which I shared with the tour groups.  First, the artist put himself and his family in the painting.  Second, there are no little children on the dark side as little children under the age of 8 who die go to the Celestial Kingdom.  Third, one of the visitors pointed out that Christ is making the American Sign Language signs for good and bad with his hands (open and turning upward for good, the other turning down for bad). Fourth, the artist painted he and his wife in both the light and the dark sides as he wasn't quite sure where they would wind up.  The tour finished up in the Cultural Hall with cookies and treats.  There was a TV playing Mormon Messages (very short inspirational videos produced by the church) and a slide presentation in another area with pictures of the inside of several temples as well as pictures of temples across the world. Even the members felt it was a special night and several commented it made them see the building in a whole new light.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Working Hard, But Having Fun!

A Special Wedding Anniversary

Thanksgiving was our 49th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with a scrumptious dinner with the other senior couple, the Abneys, at the home of the Cunninghams.  The Cunninghams had been less active for some time, but are practically genealogy/family history) professionals, so we talked to the bishop about calling them to staff the Family History Center in the Jacksonville Ward one night a week.  We have become good friends and enjoy their family a lot.  They live on a beautiful wooded lot in the country.  If you remember the 500 year old white oak tree from a previous post, it stands right in front of their home.  Behind is a creek and lots of wildlife as well as pecan, black walnut and fruit trees.  Anyway, we had a most enjoyable meal and a fun time.

The next night, Friday, we decided to go to Swansboro for our "Date Night" to a seafood restaurant that had been recommended to us and continue our Anniversary Celebration.  When we arrived in Swansboro we noticed a lot of streets were blocked off but we didn't think too much about it.  It turns out the day after Thanksgiving the town sponsors a Christmas Flotilla, like a Christmas Parade on the water.  As luck would have it, the restaurant we were going to sets right on the waterfront and we were seated by a window overlooking the pier.  We had a front row seat!! First came the spectacular sunset.

Then as darkness fell, the flotilla arrived. Not only did we enjoy fresh seafood, but we also were able to watch 17 decorated boats parade across the harbor.

We liked the Holiday Lights on the streets, too -- shells for the nearby ocean and swans in honor of the name of the town. Although, I'm not sure there are actual swans there. The town was originally named Swannborough, after Samuel Swann, an early resident, and was later shortened to Swansboro.

Christmas Parade in Jacksonville / Advertising Ward Open House
 Last Saturday was the big Christmas Parade down Western Blvd., one of the main thoroughfares in Jacksonville.  There were 5 marching bands and 10 or so floats plus lots of cars with local VIPs and police and fire vehicles. It went right in front of our ward building, so we missionaries set up a hot chocolate stand and gave out free hot cocoa (as they prefer to call it here) and let people park in the parking lot and use our rest rooms.  The parade was over an hour long and the air was nippy so we had lots of takers.  I think we gave out over 200 cups of cocoa.

While the senior missionaries manned the hot chocolate stand and walked rest room patrol, the elders and sister missionaries handed out flyers advertising our Open House at the church to be held December 9th.  We also had signs in front facing both directions.  I wish they could have been a little bigger, but we have a limited budget. The smaller signs say "Find Your Roots" inviting people to learn more about the Family History Library inside the ward building.  We are hoping to have a good turn out and do a little PR as there are still a lot of misconceptions about the Mormon church here in the South.

Lots of Graduations

Each week we attend graduations of any of our young Marines who have finished their training.  We take pictures to send to their families.  We also find where they will be stationed and notify the missionaries there to watch and welcome them.  The Marine on the right is called a Mustang --meaning  he started out as enlisted and then went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) and qualified to be a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was at Camp Lejeune for Financial Management Training for about 6 weeks.  He was named Honor Graduate and also was picked by his fellow classmates to receive the "Gung Ho" award for having the best attitude.  The Marine on the left is a returned missionary, recently married.  He just finished his MOS in Supply Training and is to be stationed in California.

It is often hard on our young LDS Marines.  Many of them join right out of high school and as one of them told us, "I've always been surrounded by my family, my friends, and my church.  I took it all for granted.  I never knew how much I needed to take the sacrament until I was in a place where it was not available (on maneuvers in the field)." They also have talked about how hard it is to remain spiritual while being surrounded by foul language and vulgarity.  Even our returned missionaries who later join the Marines sometimes falter.  I so admire the ones who do manage to make it through and keep trying to pray, read their scriptures, and attend church.

We have encountered some issues at Camp Johnson that have made it more difficult to serve the young LDS Marines based there.  Because of some problems with a few young Marines in training going off base in Private Vehicles (POV) and getting into trouble, the ruling now is no private vehicles can pick up Marines in training at Camp Johnson, which, unfortunately, includes us.  We had, prior to this, been picking up any young Mormon Marines that wanted to attend services in Jacksonville and taking them to the ward.  We also brought them in to some YSA activities, such as the Thanksgiving Dinner.  Now we must arrange to hold any regular meetings on base in the back room of the Chapel there.  It is not ideal, but at least we can hold Sacrament Meeting on Sunday morning (45 minutes) and Family Home Evening on Monday nights.  We are also able to  communicate with them by text or facebook.

We have three young men attending services at Johnson who plan to go on missions as soon as they finish basic training.  They will go into the Reserves and have a special arrangement allowing them a 2 year deferment while on a mission.

Elder Abney compares what happens to many young Marines in the military to the pride cycle in the Book of Mormon.  There are a lot of "conversions" in basic training.  The challenges are so intense that they are literally humbled and look forward to any kind of spiritual nourishment.  Several have expressed to us that prayer and weekly church meetings were the only things that got them through boot camp.  Then when they go on to MCT (combat training) and MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) they get more freedom and things are not quite as intense and they start losing that closeness and dependence on the Spirit and other things can seem more important in the moment.

Having Too Much Fun
One of our ward members ( the husband in less active family we have been working with) had a heart attack early Monday morning. (No, this is not the fun part!  Read on.)  He had a large aneurism in one of the arteries in his heart and he was very lucky it had not ruptured.  The doctors put in a stent, and, amazingly, he was able to come home Wednesday.  We went  to the hospital in New Bern (about an hour away) as soon as they called us that Monday morning and Bob and Elder Abney gave him a blessing. When he got home from the hospital he was worried about all the yard work that needed to be done so we decided to see how we might help.

 Sister Abney and I picked up branches and larger sticks while Bob mulched leaves with the riding mower. Some of you may know that Bob has long wanted his very own riding mower, so this was like the next best thing. Of course, now he is convinced that we REALLY need one for our yard in Salt Lake.  I told him to dream on. Elder Abney decided to prune some dead limbs from a large cedar tree. He likes the challenge of heights, so this was right up his alley.  I don't know if you can tell, but he is at the top of a very tall extension ladder.

The past two days we have spent any spare time cutting and folding snowflakes to help decorate for the Open House Monday night.  We have snowflakes hanging all over the house awaiting transportation to the church.  Lou (Bitner) told me you shouldn't lay more than one or two on top of each other or they will get crushed, so we have been creative in finding places they can be hung without getting knocked down as we walk around the house.  I understand that Lou is claiming that the Olympus 2nd Ward snowflakes are now famous coast to coast and we are doing our part to support that claim.

Who knew a senior mission could be this much fun!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Discoveries

Has it really been 6 weeks?

Can you believe we have been here in Jacksonville 6 weeks this Friday?  In some ways it seems like we have been here much longer as we are beginning to feel "at home", and in other ways it seems like we just arrived.  It has been a rather steep learning curve and we are still trying to grasp the scope of our responsibilities, but some things are starting to fall into place and we don't get lost or confused nearly as often.

Some Interesting New Discoveries:

You can get really lost with a GPS.  We call our GPS Gabi and she seems to have a tendency to lead us on long, circuitous back roads or streets to arrive at our destination.  And since she is not up to date on road closures or road construction, sometimes she leads us into a real no man's land.  Today we were scouting out a seaside restaurant in nearby Swansboro and she led us through back country roads and into another county when the restaurant was really just further down the road we were already on.  Google maps on our iphone to the rescue! Gabi also keeps forgetting where we live and has moved our apartment  from Valencia to Jennie Dr.

When night falls in Jacksonville you can literally be "in the dark."  Not only are streets not laid out in any kind of grid pattern, many residential areas have few or no streetlights and many streets are missing street signs.  We were driving the Elders to an appointment last week.  It was after 7 and the Elders were on splits, which meant that only one Elder had actually been to the house we were looking for.  As we drove around the very dark area the street we were on kept changing names and we couldn't find street signs for the street we needed.  Elder Lakey finally recognized the street and we drove to the house only to discover the man they had an appointment with had to work late and wasn't there.  The intrepid Elders were not to be defeated.  They saw a man sitting in a car in the driveway of the home and proceeded to talk with him and ended up giving him a Book of Mormon.  Bob was even very bold and shared his testimony of reading the Book of Mormon on a ship while in the Marine Corps. (The man was a Marine and worked on base with the investigator we had come to visit and both he and the investigator worked with a Marine who was Mormon and they had talked with him about the church.)

Speaking of Jacksonville streets, we have come across these rather interesting traffic islands on a few residential streets. There purpose is somewhat of a mystery and no one we have asked knows why they are there.  You may not be able to see in the picture, but the island is constructed so that there is a curved cut out section in the curbside of the street so cars can swerve around the island.  There is an opening through the middle to allow school buses to drive straight through and not have to swerve around, but the concrete sides are too high to allow a car to drive through without scraping.  Has anyone seen these before in other places and know their purpose?  Are they like speed bumps to slow down cars?

This is what traffic looks like on Western Blvd. pretty much 24/7.  Ditto, Lejeune and Marine Blvds.  Which is why Bob keeps searching for back streets to get to the church and to our apartment. By the way, we did finally find downtown Jacksonville, which is pretty much City Hall and a main street.  The rest of Jacksonville is spread out in all directions with lots of strip malls interspersed with housing subdivisions and pine forests. We did get a map of the Jacksonville area from City Hall.  Score!

Ever try to breathe water?  Some days the humidity here is almost 100% and the air is saturated and heavy to breathe. (Today it was 95% humidity)  It's wonderful for your skin.  I don't need nearly as much moisturizer as in Salt Lake.  I love the foggy, misty mornings of late, but anticipate a very muggy summer.

In all the grocery stores right now there are entire display aisles filled with these huge (3-5 gallon) containers of peanut oil. I think this is because many people like to deep fry their holiday turkey.  I saw signs at several restaurants advertising deep fat fried turkey for Thanksgiving (eat in or take home).  Southerners do love their fried foods and fry an amazing variety of things including green tomatoes (delicious!), okra (an acquired taste, but one of Bob's and my favorites), and, of course, chicken.  I will have to say, no one can fry chicken like they do in the South! It is not greasy and the crust is light and tasty while the chicken itself is very moist and delectable.  I understand the secret is in the peanut oil which allows you to cook at high temps and is not heavy taste wise.

Welcome to Ellis Airport serving Jacksonville and Onslow County.  It is about the size of a super Walmart and has 3 gates.  As near as I can tell, you can only fly to Charlotte or Atlanta on the three regional airlines that provide service, then connect with larger airlines from there.  This is where we take the Marines to catch their flights back home when they have leave.  We try to provide this taxi service whenever we can as it costs $40 or more to take a regular taxi from base to the airport.  Unfortunately, all the flights seem to leave very early in the morning and we need to pick up our Marines at 4 a.m. so they can make their departure time.  Return flights are usually in the late afternoon.
We will be taking one of our LDS Marines out at 4 Thanksgiving morning.  Luckily, we can come back and take a nap before we go to a member's house for Thanksgiving dinner.

For the past few days (and nights) we have been hearing the boom of artillery practice.  At first I thought it was thunder, but as it continued it became clear that it was artillery explosions.  I understand it is important that they practice firing under a variety of weather conditions and temperatures as these can affect accuracy.

I was curious to know what these trees were that I saw all over town and along the highways.  The trees, when we arrived,  were a rich green with shiny, waxy leaves. Recently they have started changing colors and are beautiful shades of orange and red.
I learned they were flowering plum trees, planted to honor the 241 American servicemen killed in the bombing of Beirut in 1983.  220 of those who died were Marines from the lst Battalion 8th Marines out of Camp Lejeune.  I can't imagine the impact the deaths of so many Marines had on the people of Jacksonville.  It must have been devastating.  Nearly everyone here is in some way connected to the base and this left many families without husbands and fathers.  In addition to the 241 trees planted in the median of the main road in front of Camp Lejeune (also called Freedom Blvd.), many individual homes also planted these beautiful tributes to the fallen Marines.

This is the Beirut Memorial at Camp Johnson where we go each week to hold meetings for the LDS Marines in training there. It is located in a beautiful little park near the entrance.  As you can see, on one side of the monument are the names of all those killed in the bombing and on the other side are the words "They Came in Peace."  Their role in Lebanon was a peacekeeping mission to provide security and stability and was not a military action -- which made what happened doubly tragic.

We love the area and the people here.  It really is true what they say about southern hospitality.  People have been very friendly and welcoming.  In the next blog I will share some of the things we have been doing and some of the touching experiences we have had.  Being on a mission truly is amazing and you can see how much the Lord really cares for each individual.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

And The Beat Goes On . .

Meet the Missionaries

Our cute sister missionaries:  Sister Dieter; Sister Cowley; Sister Larsen; Sister Bush.

The hardworking elders: Elder Lakey; Elder Mikelsen; Elder Galager; Elder McHann.
Jacksonville District Missionaries

We have so enjoyed working with all these wonderful missionaries.  The elders and sisters radiate enthusiasm for their callings.  Can you see how they sort of "glow" from within?  And they are noticed.  We were in a restaurant at lunch one day and the man behind the counter noticed our missionary name tag and commented he has seen a lot of badges like ours around town on young men with white shirts and ties riding bicycles.  

As senior missionary couples we try to attend the graduation of each of the young Marines we work with during their training at Camp Lejeune.  Just before we arrived here, the Abneys were approached by one of the commanding officers while attending a graduation ceremony.  He commented, "You must have a lot of children.  I've seen you at several of these graduations."  Sister Abney explained that they were here to serve the young LDS Marines and that they tried to care for them as if they were their own children, that they tried to wrap their arms around them and love them.
We attended a graduation at Camp Geiger this morning and have another one to go to tomorrow at Camp Johnson.  The one tomorrow is for a young man we have really grown fond of.  He is a returned missionary (Germany), recently married, and will be stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.  He is the one we took to the airport at 4 a.m. so he could spend a three day leave with his wife who stayed in Utah while he was in training here.  

Sadly, two of the missionaries pictured above were transferred this week, Elder McHann and Sister Larsen.  We will meet the two new missionaries tomorrow at District Meeting.  As Sister Larsen said, "They send you some place and tell you to love the people and you do and then they pull you out and send you somewhere else to start all over again.  Goodbyes are so hard!"  I am so glad I get to stay with my best friend and companion for the whole mission--and we don't even have to move to a new location. 

Temple Trip to Raleigh

The closest temple is in Raleigh, a three hour drive.  It is one of the new smaller temples.  The endowment room normally seats 60, but on our session they kept adding folding chairs in the aisle for people who were waiting to attend the session. They ended up adding 10 seats. They encourage you to make a reservation for the session you plan to attend and I can see why.  I liked the intimate feel of the smaller room and, of course, the spirit present is the same whether the temple is large or small.  

The temple grounds are very beautiful. Even in November there are many things still in bloom.  Don't know what tree or shrub this is, but we thought it was quite beautiful and it was still in full bloom.

 Roses in November.

A spectacular tree -- with colorful, variegated bark. The bark peels off in long strips.  The trunk just gleamed.  The picture doesn't do it justice.

After the 8:30 a.m. temple session we went to the Mission Office and had a potluck luncheon with all the senior missionary couples.  Later in the afternoon, Elder and Sister Furhman, held a workshop on Family Tree (the new LDS genealogy website).  The Furhmans are record preservation specialist working in the Raleigh area.  They have an interesting mission.  They are serving their 18 months in 6 month segments.  They serve during the late fall and winter in Raleigh, then return home to Idaho to take care of the family ranch for 6 months.

Training With Elder Baxter

Last week we attended an all day training in Fayetteville with Elder Baxter, a dynamic speaker and inspirational teacher.  He was born in Sterling, Scotland and is a convert to the church. Among other things he emphasized using clear and simple language and avoiding or explaining terms investigators may not understand (ward, stake, etc.)  He even suggested using the term "God" rather than "Heavenly Father" when first contacting someone who knows little about the gospel, as most of the world has some concept of a God, but may not understand a "Heavenly Father" at first.  He really emphasized the  importance of using the Book of Mormon and  challenging investigators to read the book for themselves and then pray about what they have read.  

We enjoyed his Scottish accent and laughed when he said we should write in our journals that night that we had heard English spoken that day as it should be spoken.  We had heard him speak at a devotional when we were at the MTC and appreciated hearing him again.

Mission Happenings

Last night we helped with a Thanksgiving Dinner for the Young Single Adults.  We had over 30 attend, over half of whom were Marines.  Miraculously, the food stretched so that everyone had plenty and everyone seemed to have a great time.  The YSAs are so supportive of each other and always go out of their way to help newcomers feel welcome.  We brought a Marine from Camp Johnson who wanted to come and he brought his roommate who is not a member but has come to church several times.  

Yesterday afternoon we drove way out in the country searching for a less active member.  We finally found the address we had been given, but no one was home. (We didn't have a current phone number for her).  We left an invitation to the Ward Christmas Party and just hope it was the right house.  I was thinking, "Wow.  This is way out in the country.  Wonder why anyone would live here."  About this time,  Bob commented, "You know if it weren't for all our children and grandchildren living back in Utah and Colorado, I wouldn't mind living in a place like this."  Go figure!

We send all of you our love.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wow! What A Month!

Well, we completed our first full month in Jacksonville on Friday.  It was a month of learning, growing, and  trying not to panic.  Fortunately, we work with some great people including the other missionaries and our awesome ward leaders.

We are starting to get the hang of this military relations mission thing.  In many ways it's just like home teaching/visiting teaching, only a lot more intense -- or as Bob puts it, "Home Teaching on steroids."Our responsibilities focus on five general areas: working with young LDS Marines in training at Camp Lejeune; providing support to families of deployed Marines; assisting local leaders with the YSA (Young Single Adults) program;  setting up and serving as the group leaders of the LDS Addiction Recovery Program for both wards; and doing general member/leadership support in the Jacksonville 3rd ward (meaning doing whatever the bishop asks us to do).

For example, we work with the young Marines at Camp Johnson, one of the sections or camps that make up Camp Lejeune, when they are sent there for MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) training after basic.  They spend anywhere from six to eight weeks at Camp Johnson depending on the training they are assigned (motor mechanic, supply, personnel administration, etc.)  If they have indicated they are LDS when they go in for basic training, the senior missionaries assigned to that base try to contact them and invite them to church. Often sacrament meeting is held in the field during boot camp as they may not be able to leave the base. When they finish basic, the missionaries there pass off their contact information to whereever they are sent for MCT (Marine Combat Training) or MOS. (You may notice  the Marine Corps is very fond of acronyms).

When we receive their name and phone number we text them immediately and tell them about  meeting times at the Jacksonville Ward and offer to pick them up from base (as most have no transportation).  We usually have several that take us up on the offer and it has been fun getting to know them.  The other senior couple does the same with the Marines at French Creek and Courthouse Bay.There is a 6 a.m. Sacrament meeting at Camp Geiger which the senior missionaries are responsible for.  If the Camp Johnson Marines can't leave base for whatever reason we hold a short Sacrament meeting for them there. Monday is a Family Home Evening for YSA (Young Single Adults) at the ward building and an Institute (Scripture study class)is held on Tuesdays.  We may hold a separate FHE at Camp Johnson on Mondays depending on the need.  I usually make a treat and we keep the lesson short. Often they will bring a friend or roommate.  We have one young man who brings someone almost every week.  Elder Abney (other senior couple) teaches the Institute class and we attend to lend support.

We take our Marines to the airport or pick them up there as needed. (It costs $40-50 for a taxi to the airport.) This doesn't happen a lot.  However, last week we took one of our young Marines out to catch a 4:30 a.m. flight and then, after dropping him off,  went with the Abneys to Raleigh to go to the temple (we had to be there by 8 a.m.) and attend a Family Tree training class.

When the young men graduate from their training we attend their graduation and take pictures which we send to their parents.  We make sure to find out where they are going to be stationed and send their contact information on to the military relations couple at that base.  We try to maintain contact with the young men and women we have worked with through facebook or texting when they leave so they know that we care what happens to them.

We are also working with the spouses of deployed Marines. We have a Service Wives Group that meets once a month, usually doing some kind of service project.  This month we are packing six boxes to send to one of the husbands who is serving in Afghanistan.  He said some of the Marines in his platoon never get any mail, so we are sending things like hard candy, gum, chap stick, knit skull caps to wear under helmets, socks, crackers, nuts, etc.  In December we are doing a cookie exchange.
Sister Abney and I try to support the visiting teachers of these women and provide additional visits and help as needed. Three of the women are pregnant and they will deliver before their husbands return.
In fact, it sometimes seem most of the younger women in the ward are pregnant.  Nursery and Primary are very full, but we do not have many youth 12-18.

We have enjoyed working with the YSA program.  We helped chaperone the Halloween Dance and had great fun even though it went well past our bedtime.  Last week the Bishop hosted a soup dinner and we (Abneys and ourselves) took rolls and salad.  It is a little tricky baking at sea level compared to 5000 ft. and I often burn the first batch of whatever I am baking.  Monday they are having an early Thanksgiving Dinner as so many in the military will be on leave Thanksgiving week.  I am to make a sweet potato casserole.

One of our more challenging assignments has been to implement/setup the LDS Addiction Recovery Program for Jacksonville. The church received permission from AA to adapt the 12 steps to reflect the Atonement and have created a powerful recovery program that has been very successful in other areas. We went forth with faith and a lot of prayers and things seem to be getting off to a good start.  Lawrence and Michelle Higginson have been wonderful to provide advice and resources.  They helped us get in contact with the coordinators for North and South Carolina and they have been so welcoming and provided training and advice that we desperately needed.  We have held two meetings.  The first week, two attended, and last week there were three.

Under general member/leadership support we have driven elders to appointments, helped with fellowshipping new members and assisted in the Family History Center. A big project in our ward right now is trying to locate all the "lost sheep."  Because this is such a military town and the ward is about 75% military connected there are many move-ins and move-outs and it is difficult for the ward to keep membership records current.  We have over 500 records that are either of inactive members or people no longer living in the area.  We are helping by taking 20 names at a time and going to the last known address to see if the person listed is still living at the address or has moved.  If they are no longer at that address, there is an 8 step process that must be followed to try to find a current address before the ward can send the record to Salt Lake.  It is a tedious and time consuming undertaking for all concerned, but the ward members are very supportive and everyone is trying to do his part.

I'm sorry this is such a long post, but I needed to explain what kind of work we are doing so that future posts will make more sense.  My next post will have lots of pictures, at least that is what I am planning. I love our mission!!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Things I've Learned So Far

1.  The average age of Jacksonville residents is 22.8 years old.  Lots of young Marines and Marines with young families! I was quite excited when I ran into some middle aged and older civilians at the local Food Lion grocery store.

2. The streets are definitely not laid out in a grid pattern.  You can start out going north on a street and it will curve east or west and sometimes double around and be headed south.  We have discovered that, fortunately, most streets wind up feeding into Western Blvd,, Marine Blvd., or Lejeune Blvd. and this helps.

3.  We have yet to find "downtown" Jacksonville, though I believe it does exist.  Growth has been in all directions and all we have found are subdivisions and shopping centers branching out from the main boulevards.

4.  Baking at sea level is different from baking at 5000 ft.  We had several sheets of burnt cookies (also known as Cajun blackened) until I learned how to adjust the baking time.

5.  We mostly see lots of fast food places, hair salons advertising Marine hair cuts, car dealers, tattoo parlors, bars, and "clubs".  Bob does want to point out that there are also stores like Harbor Freight, Lowe's, and Home Depot but that I won't let him buy anything there.

6. Because there are so many young Marine families, Walmart here is huge and always packed any time of the day.  Think Costco on a Saturday.

7.  Camp Lejeune covers an immense amount of territory.  We have spent an inordinate amount of time and gas locating the bases within Camp Lejeune where we need to pick up Marines to bring to church. Right now we work with young Marines at 4 different bases or camps, and, of course, they are on opposite ends of Camp Lejeune.  In between camps there are vast tracks of forested land with miles and miles of roads.  I would love to see it all from the air some day so I can envision how it fits together.
We have split our responsibilities between the Abneys and ourselves so each couple is responsible for about half the base and each of us has one of the wards as our primary responsibility.

8. The flight path for Marine planes and helicopters goes right over our apartments.  We often see the Osprey which looks like a cross between a plane and a helicopter.  Bob tells me they can take off and land vertically.

9.  Ontos still exist (at least in museums).  Bob commanded a company of these anti-tank vehicles when he was in Okinawa in the 60's.  He was excited to see this particular Ontos displayed in the parking lot of Sam's Club, on loan from the Marine Museum.

10.  Food is more expensive here than in Salt Lake, especially milk.  Pecans, however, are cheaper here and cost less than walnuts.

11. No one seems to know where a post office is located.  When we ask in a store or elsewhere, people just shrug their shoulders and reply they don't ever use a post office.  We have a small post office near our apartment, but it is only for picking up packages.  They do not sell stamps or mail packages.  Go figure.

12. Every fast food place has these huge containers of sweet iced tea on the counter next to the soft drink dispensers.  Iced tea is very popular here in the South.

13.  North Carolinians still use hound dogs (coon dogs?) for hunting.  Last week we saw 3 pick-up trucks pulled off to the side of the road next to a forested area and in the back of each pick-up were special carriers with several hounds in each.  I love the sound of hounds baying.  Back in East Millcreek we had a hound somewhere in the neighborhood that would set up a howl each morning and I looked forward to hearing it.

14.  Siri on our Iphone has a sense of humor.  I asked her to find a self service car wash nearby and she responded, "I think cars should wash themselves, don't you?"  She did provide several addresses.

15.  Our local YSA (Young Single Adults) program is going strong.  Saturday they had an After Halloween Dance.  We usually have around 15 attend Family Home Evenings on Mondays, but at the dance we had 55.  They had invited other YSAs from the surrounding stakes and there was a great turnout.  About half in attendance were Marines.  Everyone seemed to have a good time.  They seemed to include everyone and reached out to two young people with mental challenges.  Lots of line dancing which they entered into with great energy and enthusiasm.  The dance ended at 11:30 p.m.  They cleaned up, set up chairs for Sunday School the next day and told us several times how much they enjoyed being with other young LDS members. Two of the Marines up from Wilmington came and introduced themselves, said they were from Payson, Utah.  Both were returned missionaries.

Love North Carolina and the people here!!