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!!