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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!!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Great Story

Last Saturday, we drove to Fayetteville (about 2 1/2 hours from Jacksonville) to attend a Mission Training Meeting with Elder Zwick and Elder Pino of the Seventy.  We left at 6:45 a.m. and took the 2 elders who serve with us in the Jacksonville 3rd Ward.  One is from Idaho and the other from Clinton, Utah.  The Abneys took the other 2 elders and the sisters drove their car.  Next time, we will switch and take the sisters and the elders will drive their car.  All of them prefer to ride with the senior missionaries to save the miles they have been assigned for their car.  They have only so many miles they can drive each month and the rest of the time they ride bikes.  We have a huge area to cover so they really like to conserve their miles.

It was slightly cooler when we left that morning and as we drove along these wooded highways wherever there was water (ponds, rivers) a ghostly mist was rising, also in low lying fields.  It was quite beautiful.

Anyway, at the meeting, Sister Zwick told this great story about when Elder Zwick and she were called to serve preside over the Chile, Santiago South Mission. They arrived on July 4, 1989.  Sister Zwick was feeling quite overwhelmed as she did not speak Spanish and she was responsible for the health and welfare of 200 young missionaries, half of whom spoke no English, in addition to her own 4 young children.  She wondered why there was a 10 ft. tall fence all around the Mission Home.  She was certain she would never be able to drive on roads where drivers made 4 lanes out of 2.  In the midst of her lament, they received a phone call.

"President," came the voice on the other end, "You don't know me and I don't know you, but I am one of your missionaries and I am standing here in a phone booth with only my companion's overcoat on.  We were doing a baptismal interview in the chapel when 7 terrorists broke in and held a gun to my head and made me take off all my clothes in front of the seminary students who were also in the chapel at the time.  They poured floor wax on my clothes and set them on fire.  The chapel is burning and I was wondering, President, what you want me to do."

Sister Zwick said she stood in the kitchen sobbing, saying, "I can't do this. I have to go home!"  Her 10 year old son came and put his arm around her and said, "Heavenly Father will help you." "And," she concluded, " He did."

Elder Zwick
Sorry, I couldn't find one of his wife.
Elder Zwick followed up with a marvelous talk, building on his wife's story.  The take away moral was "Never limit yourself by what you think is your capacity, but allow Heavenly Father to expand your capacity.  AND HE WILL!"