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.)
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.
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.